A month ago a Sussex man confided: "When you have never won the Championship there are butterflies in the stomach every time you look up the score". Sussex are the oldest first-class county (1839) and have been second seven times. Today, on the South Downs, there may be a Clouded Yellow and Purple Emperor to be seen.
A draw should suffice for if Lancashire can be prevented from winning, the bonus points Sussex will take from this contest will put them beyond the reach of either their hosts here or Surrey irrespective of what happens in the last round of matches next week. A Lancashire victory would leave them mathematically capable of overtaking Sussex, especially if the weather intervened. Lancashire are at Trent Bridge, Sussex are home to Leicestershire.
Yesterday did little for the Sussex digestion. Lancashire's long batting order marched past 400, the only wicket to fall before the declaration coming when Glen Chapple was bowled by a beauty. Jason Lewry would also have taken Stuart Law, had slip been able to hang on. Needing 301 to avoid a follow on, Sussex had to survive 14 overs to lunch during which they lost Richard Montgomerie to Gary Keedy's third ball. This was the left-arm spinner's 50th wicket, from limited chances.
Unbroken sunshine firmed up a worn surface and while Keedy took some punishment in the early afternoon, mostly from Murray Goodwin, who passed his 1,000 runs, Sussex were plunged into danger by the third seamer John Wood, who, pitching just short of a length, induced two mishits to mid off and took two wickets in two balls when he bowled Tim Ambrose.
Keedy then found a tricky line and turned the ball enough to excise the tail until Mushtaq arrived to rampage 50 off 44 balls while Goodwin needed treatment to a cut forehead after an attempted hook. The opener returned unperturbed to reach his third century of the summer but once Mushtaq had been deceived by Carl Hooper's flight, after the eighth-wicket pair had added 81 in 16 overs, his partners were whittled away.
Lancashire's fielding became more avaricious as each wicket fell. They truly believe this was their year for the title and their anger and frustration, partly at the early weather, partly at England coach Duncan Fletcher, can be sensed, so it was a pleasure to see them applauding the undefeated Goodwin off the field.
Keedy, not thought good enough to be even an England tour reserve, took his fourth five-wicket haul of the summer and Sussex had to face another taut 11 overs after being sent in again last evening. It's going to be a nail-biting, stomach-churning, cliff-hanger of a day on the South coast.
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