Prince provides grit but will Lancs gamble?
Lancashire 320 and 203 for 4 (Prince 85) lead Sussex 434 (Zaidi 66) by 89 runs
Lancashire, in the most optimistic scenario, will face a quandary on the final day at Hove as they contemplate whether they might risk a declaration that could have a major bearing on their Division One future. A draw at Hove would not be a great outcome. At best, it would put them within seven points of safety and they will have only one match remaining whereas the other relegation-threatened counties, Middlesex and Durham, will have two.
A Durham defeat of Middlesex at Lord's would be best for Lancashire, as potentially it could leave them needing to beat Middlesex in their last match at Old Trafford to stay up. But with a lead of 89 runs over Sussex with a day remaining, and only six wickets intact, even getting into a position to throw open the game and chase victory will be a demanding task.
Assessing how this relaid pitch will behave on the final day is far from straightforward: there is no previous evidence to go on. It looked increasingly sedate as Ashwell Prince, a stalwart in Lancashire, virtually friendless in Yorkshire, his brouhaha with Andrew Gale now part of folklore, proceeded to 85 before he was caught at short leg in the penultimate over. When Lancashire opted not to send in a nightwatchman for Jos Buttler, it identified the player on whom so many hopes now depend.
Lancashire have a reputation for conservatism in the Championship. They prefer not to give their opponents a sniff. But among their number is James Anderson, England's premier strike bowler, who took match figures of 11 for 109 here five years ago. Anderson is not available for the final game. There is little point him putting his shoulder to the wheel unless they give him a chance to win the match.
Lancashire needed the last three wickets quickly as they resumed 21 runs behind, but instead conceded a lead of 114. Sussex batted for all but four minutes of the morning session, Ashar Zaidi made a Sussex-best 66 and brought up his fifty by lofting Simon Kerrigan over long-on for six. His stand with Chris Jordan, ended by Jordan's run out, yielded 104 in 28 overs as the floodlights cut through a misty morning.
Lancashire then scored at roughly three an over in their second innings, the deficit of 114 entailing that trying to bat themselves into a position where they might declare would be a painstaking business.
They also had to contend with Steve Magoffin, who was as relentless as ever, gaining momentum from the slope, hitting a demanding just-short-of-good length time and again and drying up the Lancashire batting line-up in an initial spell of 10-5-13-1. Lancashire also failed to hit a boundary in the last hour as Magoffin returned.
If Paul Horton's departure against Jordan was soft, leaning back to uppercut to third man, Usman Khawaja got a good one, drawn into the shot, the ball leaving him, and Michael Yardy clutching a good catch at slip. Karl Brown, who has had a productive limited-overs season, has less impressive stats in the first-class game and he edged Zaidi's left-arm spin to the keeper.
Prince stabilised them. No wonder Lancashire want to talk him out of planned retirement, even at 37, because their batsmen, dangerous in the one-day game, have less to commend them over four days. It is thanks to Prince that the scoreboard looked relatively healthy by the close. It was certainly healthy compared to the morning session when, at times, both scoreboards were out of order.
Such a happenstance put Sam, who now mans the main gate at Hove after many years operating the old manual scoreboard, in particularly spritely mood, eagerly recollecting days of yore when very little could go wrong - apart from a spot of arm ache by the end of September. "The old scoreboard never broke down," he said, with a spring in his step, transported back to a simpler time.
If the tiny electronic scoreboard rolled on to the edge of the outfield as an emergency, had gone kaput, presumably Sam would have had to make a comeback and stand on the edge of the square brandishing the old tins above his head. He would have loved it.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo