Sussex in charge as Notts rue misses
Nottinghamshire 251 and 114 for 5 require a further 172 runs to beat Sussex 277 and 259 (Prior 64, Wright 48)
Sussex, after making early inroads into the Nottinghamshire second innings after setting them 286 runs for victory, are strong favourites to win the match on the final day, weather permitting. And the home side have only themselves to blame, as six chances went down during the Sussex second innings that, if held, could have knocked 100 runs off that target. The slip cordon was most culpable, and the chief beneficiary was Matt Prior, who celebrated with another very determined innings; in this match, he scored 140 runs more than the best of his colleagues.
Sussex began the day 96 runs ahead with two wickets down, but were quickly in danger of losing that advantage. Michael Yardy, uncertain from the start, after half an hour chipped a return catch straight back to the bowler, Charlie Shreck, his arch-enemy after the previous evening's rejected caught-wicket appeal, for 43. In the next over Murray Goodwin's painstaking vigilance all came to nothing as he edged Darrin Pattinson to the keeper for 19 off 58 balls. Chris Adams struggled to get off his pair, then finally achieved it with an uppish stroke that bisected the off-side fielders, and then was palpably lbw to Mark Ealham, playing back to a ball that kept low, for 4. Sussex were now struggling at 114 for 5.
Matt Prior again came to the rescue, partnered by Luke Wright. The pair forsook their natural inclinations and fought for survival until lunch, with Ealham and Paul Franks conceding little more than a run an over. Then Wright began to open out after lunch, followed by Prior. They were leaving Notts behind when Wright (48) fell to a confusing dismissal: it appeared at first to be lbw, but was given as caught at short leg, and the batsman was not happy that it was either.
Prior went on to his fifty, reached off 132 balls; it was a much less fluent innings than his first, but no less determined. He was dropped twice, though (so was Wright, on 8), misses that may well have cost the home side the match, even discounting earlier lapses in the field. His most memorable stroke came after he reached fifty, as he stepped back and slapped Shreck over point for six.
Tea was taken late yet again, with a late close of play to follow; the ECB seems as incompetent as the ICC in enforcing their already very lenient over-rate quota. The end of the innings came quickly during what would normally have been the interval. Franks will swear for the rest of his life that he took an unusual, unrecorded hat-trick. First he had Mushtaq Ahmed (20) caught at the wicket, going for another bold shot. He, and his fielders, were convinced he had Jason Lewry caught at the wicket next ball, but the umpire was not. With his third delivery, he removed Lewry's leg stump. In the words of the old cricket lore, that one "must have been very close."
Prior fell next over, deceived and bowled for 64 by Graeme Swann, topscorer in both innings for his team. The last three wickets fell without addition to the score in six balls, and the innings closed for 259. Shreck's sturdy efforts earned him figures of three for 73, while the other three seamers took two each. The bottom line was that Notts needed 286 to win, the highest total of the match, in four sessions.
The home side was soon deep in trouble. The Sussex seamers strayed down the leg side at first, but Notts failed to take advantage; instead, the unfortunate Will Jefferson, after an unhappy day in the field, edged one from Corey Collymore to Prior behind the stumps with just a single to his credit. He was quickly followed by Matt Wood(9), playing on to Lewry while trying to withdraw his bat, and then Mark Wagh (8) was very well caught by Carl Hopkinson in the slips off Lewry; 25 for three.
Worse was to follow; Sumit Patel (11) was another leg-side catch, with Prior reminding everybody he can also keep wicket with a superb goalkeeper's take to his left. With Adam Voges (30) palpably lbw to Robin Martin-Jenkins, Notts had lost their five specialist batsmen for 81 runs.
Chris Read and Swann played some defiant strokes before the close, and Mushtaq had a few overs, but still without regaining his usual control. But it will now take a remarkable performance from Nottinghamshire's admittedly capable lower middle order to win this match against the odds on the final day. They will rue those dropped catches.