Sussex leave Lancashire needing help
Sussex 434 (Joyce 137, Nash 67, Zaidi 66, Cachopa 50) and 251 for 3 (Joyce 79, Cachopa 78*, Nash 57) beat Lancashire 320 (Procter 81*, Magoffin 4-96) and 364 (Croft 87, Prince 85, Jordan 4-82) by seven wickets
Lancashire did not suffer the ignominy of being relegated from Division One on the same day that Yorkshire lifted the Championship but their fate is no longer in their own hands. Caught betwixt and between trying to set Sussex a steep enough chase for them to get vertigo or batting their way to safety, Lancashire managed neither, a target of 251 in 59 overs proving insubstantial on a hard, sun-baked surface.
Their hopes now rest on Middlesex continuing a tailspin that has seen them fail to win in the Championship since May. In one respect, Middlesex's defeat at home to Durham allowed Lancashire a guilt-free tilt in this match, though there will be those who rue missing out on a potentially crucial five points that the draw would have been worth. With the ball, they never looked likely winners and some will question whether they have the requisite fight left even if the next round of matches, which they will sit out, does go their way.
The gap is currently 12 points and should Middlesex manage a draw with maximum bonus points at Taunton, Lancashire will be down. However, if they were to lose for the third time in four, then Middlesex's trip to Old Trafford in the final round will become a shootout to avoid the second drop spot alongside Northamptonshire. Sussex have no such concerns after hustling victory with a cool confidence that belied the fact they would have been only a couple of points above Lancashire, with a game in hand, if they had lost.
Lancashire needed inspiration and they turned to a man used to shouldering a heavy load for his country. James Anderson has been sporting a Morrissey quiff this season but it began to droop in the Hove sunshine as Sussex's batsmen thrummed along as if on a Sunday drive through the countryside. Anderson bowled 12 of the first 27 overs but only managed one wicket and will not be available for the Middlesex game. Heaven knows he'll be miserable (or at least grumpy) now.
Having removed Luke Wells with a short ball that was gloved to slip, Anderson proceeded to pound the middle of the pitch, breaking the helmet of Ed Joyce and roughing up Craig Cachopa. His effort was palpable but the support at the other end was unthreatening, despite Simon Kerrigan removing Chris Nash for 57 with a ball that turned and bounced to take the edge.
For the first hour of the morning, Lancashire played with a sense of manifest destiny, piling on the runs in a manner that suggested they were not just confident of batting Sussex out of the game but a bold declaration could also be on the cards. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, after a difficult season, confidence ebbed with the fall of wickets and when Tom Smith had to retire hurt after receiving treatment on a back injury - he was also unable to bowl - their old fragility reappeared.
At lunch, the lead was just 214 with 69 overs left in the day - far too cushy a chase for Lancashire to be comfortable. Anderson, the last man, was at the crease but after he had bashed a few boundaries, Smith returned with a runner and it seemed a certain postprandial pragmatism had set in. In the end, as a sparkling third-wicket stand worth 105 in 20 overs between Joyce and Cachopa proved, Lancashire were effectively faced with Hobson's choice.
Optimism was more readily available at the start of the day and it had only taken a few overs for Jos Buttler to carve himself a slice of Ashar Zaidi's left-arm sling-spin, twice hitting the bowler back over his head. Zaidi was hurt in the line of duty, injuring his hand attempting to stop another Buttler drive, but his replacement, Nash, was treated just a brusquely, Steven Croft testing the reinforced media centre windows with another straight thump.
Croft might have been removed on 62 but Luke Wright, again proving himself to be a good egg, admitted standing on the rope when taking a catch at third man. Lewis Hatchett was the unlucky bowler but he did pick up a wicket in the same over, when Buttler sent a hack skywards and Chris Jordan sprinted from mid-on to square leg, ignoring Nash's call as he came in from the boundary, to take an excellent diving catch.
Lancashire had thrashed 74 from 12 overs but Buttler turned out to be the stalking horse, Croft the genuine contender. Having notched his 50 from 140 balls, he rattled up 37 from his next 30, before miscuing in similar fashion trying to hit across the line against the new ball. Five overs later, Smith limped from the field after being treated by the physio for a stiff back. "That's from carrying Lancashire all season," someone joked.
It was during the break caused by Smith's injury that the news of Yorkshire's title was announced over the PA. For Lancashire, things went downhill from there.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick