Sussex v Nottinghamshire, Hove, 3rd day June 2, 2013

Taylor, Cowan, Gurney set up Notts

Vithushan Ehantharajah at Hove

Nottinghamshire 356 and 304 for 9 (Taylor 97, Cowan 81) lead Sussex 306 (Gurney 4-69) by 354 runs

If there is a formula for the perfect pitch, then there's a good chance that Hove's head groundsman, Andy Mackay, has found it. Regardless of how this game ends up - and it could well be a draw, with Nottinghamshire taking a lead of 354 into the final day - the surface on which both sides have battled for the first three days has given them the opportunity and incentive to play some high quality, attacking cricket. Perhaps the best part of it is at the Sea End.

Harry Gurney was first to reap rewards bowling into it, as he took a maiden first-class hat-trick to bring the Sussex innings to a close, before Chris Jordan bent his pack to produce a blistering spell of short bowling that snared James Taylor, Samit Patel and Steven Mullaney. Chris Nash then got one to shake, rattle and roll out of the foot marks.

But Ed Cowan and Taylor's 151 partnership for the third wicket, and an unbeaten run-a-ball 56 from Paul Franks - which included two lavish extra-cover drives off Magoffin coming in from the Cromwell Road End - showed that runs can still be scored.

Sussex's early progress towards Nottinghamshire's total was nipped in the bud, first by the ungainly run out of Jordan, and then by Gurney, who hacked off the tail in three blows. He tempted Ben Brown into a flamboyant waft with a short and wide delivery, before bringing his length forward, tightening his line and getting enough away movement to find the outside edge of James Anyon and then Monty Panesar.

It was the first hat-trick for a Nottinghamshire bowler since Charlie Shreck performed the feat against Middlesex in 2006 and gave Gurney four wickets in the match, and saw them take a lead of 50 into their second innings.

But when Alex Hales departed for a golden duck to Magoffin, who then tied down Michael Lumb before getting him to push at one that slid across him - the catch taken by a diving Brown - Sussex sensed there was an opening for them to exploit.

The way the game had been progressing, it looked like only a major gaffe could separate the two sides. But Ed Cowan and James Taylor made sure this was not it, as they guided their side into lunch without any further damage.

In the afternoon session they began extending the lead with the sort of calculated determination you would associate with both these players. Both Taylor and Cowan can be filed under "gritty", but it's their intelligence that turns that grittiness into runs and, together, they blunted the Sussex attack. Once their partnership had moved into three figures they manoeuvred the field well and tested the resolve of the fielders, who had to constantly readjust after each single, as the pair exploited their left-right combination.

Taylor was quick to pounce on even the smallest shortening of length from Jordan - shifting his weight onto the back foot and whipping his hands through the shot. It would end up bringing about his demise after tea, on 97 - the second time he has fallen on this score this season - as Jordan produced a delivery with a bit of extra zip. But he could be forgiven for going for the stroke given the number he had played successfully in that general direction, one of which included a maximum off the same bowler.

Cowan, still searching for his first Championship hundred of the campaign, came as close as he has done so far, reaching 81 before under-edging Nash's gentle offspin onto his stumps. He cut a forlorn figure as he traipsed off but he has played a vital role in setting up this game for his side. One mistimed hook aside - even that went for six - his shots carried little to no risk and, when it looked like he was perhaps being too respectful, he made James Anyon's ninth over his own with a trio of cracking fours.

Franks' end of day theatrics has put the game in Nottinghamshire's hands, but with just one wicket remaining and the forecast set to allow a full day's play, it would be foolish to rule out a home win. All thanks to you, Mr Mackay.