Sussex v Surrey, Hove, 3rd day May 2, 2008

Prior shines but not bright enough

Surrey 164 for 2 (Ramprakash 66*, Butcher 10*) trail Sussex 475 (Goodwin 98, Martin-Jenkins 53*) by 311 runs

Matt Prior: impressed the watching Geoff Miller, but didn't build on his half-century © Getty Images

The third, soporific day at Hove inched the match inexorably closer to a batsman's draw, with Sussex's last five batsman adding 157 in 45 overs, only occasionally breaking into a trot. Scott Newman and Mark Ramprakash made the most of perfect May conditions for Surrey, but the only people breaking into a sweat were those in the bars searching for another Pimms.

For periods of the day's play, it almost felt as though the clock had been wound back to the 1980s. As Robin Marlar, the Sussex president, grumpily pointed out once Surrey had eased past 100 for the loss of just one wicket, "rain doesn't suit this game". The slips lounged with hands in their pockets; the fast bowlers ambled casually back to their marks, and not even Matt Prior could be stirred into verbal jousting behind the stumps.

Prior had a more important role earlier in the day, however directionless the match had become. He played beautifully for his fifty - his fourth in succession in the Championship - and was particularly strong driving through the off-side but equally aware of the tuck to leg. Two spanking drives - one zipped through extra cover, the other down the ground - could not have been timed any more sweetly, so it was a disappointment for him and his home crowd that he gifted his wicket on 51.

Chris Jordan, from the Cromwell Road End, slipped in a bouncer and Prior couldn't resist a pull, chipping a skier straight to gully. Only when he reached the boundary edge did his anger become apparent to the rest of us, angrily bashing the boards with his bat and it soon became obvious why: Geoff Miller, the England selector, had been spotted.

Nevertheless, he had urged Sussex past 350, and they had at least 400 in their sights. James Kirtley, the nightwatchman, had a spread-out field into which to nudge singles, but on 19 he swept Saqlain Mushtaq - for the second unsuccessful time in succession - and was trapped lbw. Luke Wright rarely looked comfortable at the crease, unlike Robin Martin-Jenkins who used his height to good effect in a slick 75-ball fifty. Martin-Jenkins dominated the pair's eighth-wicket stand of 55 - 32 to Wright's 20 at the landmark - and he was particularly adept against Mushtaq, punching him commandingly off the back foot. A deft back-cut down to third man brought up the 400.

Martin-Jenkins was at it with the ball, too, but not before Jason Lewry produced a fine opening spell from the Sea End, testing Newman with several near-misses outside his off stump. Jonathan Batty cracked four fours and looked in fine touch before Martin-Jenkins finally won an lbw appeal, but thereafter Newman and Ramprakash took control. Newman was strong off his pads, sharing the same nuggety compact technique of Mark Butcher, and was quick to pounce on anything short.

Ramprakash spent 20 balls on nought, but once settled he quickly dominated with trademark deflections down to third man and authoritative cover drives. He and Newman's hundred stand came from 176 balls, and - as was the case for Surrey's bowlers - there was little to encourage Sussex's seamers. However, Martin-Jenkins returned for a second spell from the Cromwell Road End and immediately trapped Newman leg-before to complete his own fine day's work.

Ramprakash completed his second fifty of the season and his 99th hundred appears tantalisingly on the horizon. With perfect batting conditions set for tomorrow, Surrey members can begin to plan their pilgrimage to Southampton for their next Championship match against Hampshire on May 14.

Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo