Prior and Mushtaq put Sussex on top
Sussex 303 and 179 for 7 (Prior 59, Wright 58) lead Kent 204 (Jones 51*, Mushtaq 5-83) by 278 runs
For the second time in the match Matt Prior hauled Sussex out of a hole after the top-order slumped and set the platform for a final-day dart at victory. Luke Wright also played a vital hand as they added 115 for the sixth wicket and built an advantage of 278 to set up a fascinating finish. Mushtaq Ahmed's 5 for 83 earned a 99-run lead as Kent did well to avoid the follow-on before striking back to reduce Sussex to 54 for 5 shortly after tea.
It was a spirited resurgence from Kent who began the day on 65 for 6 and fell away to 122 for 9. Geraint Jones and Yasir Arafat added 82 for the last wicket and when Azhar Mahmood claimed two quick wickets, followed by Chris Adams going early in the final session, the game was alive for Kent.
However, Prior continued from his first-innings 105 with a 67-ball half-century although he was given a life on 9 when James Tredwell dropped a tough chance at first slip. Prior earlier told Cricinfo: "I enjoy playing when there's something on it in a pressurised situation...you know the amount of work you put into a certain innings and you do get reward out of it." When playing well he is one of the crispest drivers of the ball and he repeatedly went straight down the ground while also unleashing his favourite square drive.
Wright, who combined with Prior in a first-day stand of 82, kept up with him throughout the partnership. Wright is eager to develop his first-class batting to remove the tag of a one-day hitter and began the season with 155 against MCC. There was nothing other than pride riding on that innings, it was a different case here. His half-century came off 64 balls before the partnership was ended when Ryan McLaren found one to keep low at Prior. Wright was bowled by the final ball of the day from Tredwell, but it wasn't the worst thing to happen to Sussex as it keeps the match moving.
The complexion of the game changed throughout the day and as in the first innings Sussex's collapse started with a run out when Carl Hopkinson was beaten for the second time in the match. It was ill-judged single as he dropped the ball into midwicket, where Joe Denly collected cleanly and had time to take aim at the non-striker's end and still catch Hopkinson a yard short. Chris Nash was then well caught by Jones when he clung onto an outside edge in front of first slip.
Michael Yardy was clearly unhappy about the decision he received from Jeremy Lloyds, slamming his bat as he trudged off, and on the stroke of tea Murray Goodwin was well caught from a top edged hook by Arafat at long leg. The onus was on Adams to steady the innings, but his footwork hasn't looked quite right this season. He fell to another sharp catch, this time Martin van Jaarsveld at second slip, as he fished outside off stump against the deserving Mahmood.
At that point the lead of 99 looked even more important. It hadn't appeared as though Kent would be able to save the follow-on as Mushtaq continued to chip away, although it's unlikely Adams would have enforced to allow Mushtaq final use of the pitch. He ended Tredwell's stubborn 40 and then, in a wicket to give him plenty of personal satisfaction, had Mahmood taken at silly point.
Jones played with patience he rarely showed for England - even when in good form he was never one to hang around - and took more than 50 balls to reach double figures. His innings only contained three boundaries, partly down to a slow outfield, and his fifty took 117 deliveries as he pushed Kent towards an unexpected batting point.
Arafat is much better than a No. 11, pushed into that slot by the nightwatchman, but Kent have so many allrounders that he is often buried down the order. Once the follow-on was saved he opened his shoulders with consecutive boundaries off Chris Liddle. Mushtaq completed his first five-wicket haul of the season when Arafat inside-edged a googly and was bowled. Mushtaq operated unchanged during the third day, no doubt a sign of things to come for the final day of this match and the season ahead.
Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo