Sussex keep Worcestershire sweating
Sussex 375 and 267 for 4 v Worcestershire 222
Worcestershire will end the season peering over their shoulder with the nervousness of Dr Crippen's paperboy as they struggle to retain their Division One status. While it will still take a remarkable series of results for Worcestershire to suffer relegation, they are stumbling to the finishing line in a manner that increasingly resembles Devon Loch.
Sussex, meanwhile, have safety within their sights. Barring a most unlikely series of results, a draw here will almost certainly guarantee them another season in Division One. It may be that Sussex's priorities benefit Worcestershire. Had the visitors desperately required a victory from this game, they would surely have declared already or enforced the follow-on early on the third morning.
As it is, however, Sussex already lead by 420 and, despite poor weather and somewhat over-protective umpiring curtailing the day by 16 overs, claim they will bat on for a while on the fourth morning. Worcestershire, with their eyes on the three points they would earn from a draw, won't mind that at all. Only one side - Nottinghamshire in 2001 - has ever scored more to win in the fourth innings on this ground. That won't change on the final day here.
That Sussex had the option of enforcing the follow-on was due to some fine bowling and some bewilderingly intemperate batting. Resuming on the third morning with just 27 more runs required to avoid the follow-on, Worcestershire fell just four runs short.
While tailenders Richard Jones and Alan Richardson could hardly be blamed as they were beaten for pace, the shot selection of Alexei Kervezee was much harder to justify. With just six needed to avert the follow-on, Kervezee skipped down the pitch in an attempt to deposit Monty Panesar over long-on. The resultant leading edge to extra-cover soured an otherwise impressive innings.
Perhaps that's harsh. Kervezee had just deposited Panesar for six with a similar shot and there is something to be said for allowing his naturally positive instincts to flow. There is a distinction between positive and reckless, however, and Kervezee - just about as talented a young batsman as anyone in the county game - would surely score the runs his ability warrants if he placed a greater value on his wicket.
Still, his wicket was fair reward for Panesar. It completed his third five-wicket haul this season and left him with 63 Championship wickets; just four behind the division's leading wicket-taker, Alan Richardson. If Sussex's close catching - distinctly fallible as it is - had been better, Panesar would surely have at least a dozen more wickets.
As it was Sussex, reluctant to bat fourth on a pitch that will only deteriorate, declined to enforce the follow-on. While they lost Chris Nash early, beaten by a beauty that bounced and left him from the wonderfully reliable Richardson, Ed Joyce and Joe Gatting built on a first innings lead of 155 with a stand of 120.
Joyce batted beautifully. While he has always had the ability to time the ball sweetly, Joyce has also learned which balls to leave outside the off stump. His is a far more rounded player as a result and only two men - Marcus Trescothick and Dale Benkenstein - have more Division One runs this year. He also played Moeen Ali's offspin with ease, pulling one dismissive six.
At the other end, Gatting recorded an increasingly dominant maiden Championship century. Patient initially - his first 50 took 114 balls - he grew in confidence and produced some outstanding drives off the front and, in particular, the back foot. His second 50 took just 69 balls and he has so far scored 186 runs in the game.
Worcestershire picked up another three wickets as Sussex's batsmen fell in attempting to set a declaration, but the burden upon Richardson remained immense. With Daryl Mitchell understandably unwilling to trust the rest of his attack, Richardson has been obliged to deliver more than his fair share of overs this summer. He looks jaded now but, if his team survive, he can look back on a job well done. Worcestershire owe him plenty.
How will Sussex reflect on the season? Well, many teams would be quite satisfied with a year in which they reached a quarter-final (in the FLtT20), a semi-final (in the CB40) and remained in the top division of the Championship. But not Sussex. This is the first season since 2004 they will have not won some silverware (including lower division honours) and expectations have grown. Perhaps unrealistically. For a small county, Sussex continue to punch well above their weight.
George Dobell is chief writer at Spin magazine