Sussex v Lancashire, Hove, 1st day June 29, 2008

Sussex fight back as battle is rejoined

Lancashire 67 for 4 (Law 5*, Keedy 5*) trail Sussex 253 (Martin-Jenkins 70, Mahmood 5-76) by 186 runs

Sajid Mahmood makes a mess of Chris Adams's stumps at Hove © Getty Images
Last year it took until the final ball of the season to split Sussex and Lancashire, while in recent times their meetings in the Championship have taken on the mantle of grudge matches. Players from both teams have been commenting on how they have felt as intense as a Test, and the first encounter for 2008 is shaping up as another ding-dong battle after Sussex bounced back from Sajid Mahmood's 5 for 76 to reduce the visitors to 67 for 4.

Both teams would have hoped to be higher than fourth and seventh respectively - with just one win apiece - before the Twenty20 break. Sussex haven't found the going very easy as they aim for a hat-trick of Championship titles, but the division is so close (just 19 points between first and ninth) that anything is possible with a good second half to the season. That applies to Lancashire, too, but the strong position they had after Mahmood's haul was eroded by the close.

Having fallen for 253 in good batting conditions, Sussex made inroads of their own as Lewry claimed two wickets in two balls. First he bowled Paul Horton, who didn't offer a shot to an inswinger, then trapped Mal Loye lbw straight away with another that ducked back. Faf du Plessis got a thin edge off Robin Martin-Jenkins and for the second time Lancashire lost two on the same score as Lou Vincent was superbly held at third slip. Vincent hadn't held back in his strokeplay, launching a straight six down the ground plus another lofted cover drive, but Lancashire needed more permanency.

Mahmood's fourth five-wicket haul of his career continued the impressive form he showed in the Twenty20. The England selectors will be avid viewers for this match, but more for the progress of Andrew Flintoff, so Mahmood picked a good time to send a reminder of his credentials. He struck during the morning session, then returned to mop up the tail.

After a shambolic run-out to dismiss Chris Nash, captain Chris Adams dragged Mahmood into his stumps before Murray Goodwin clipped lazily to square leg. Michael Yardy, shifted up to open, was threatening a substantial innings but got an outside edge to slip off Gary Keedy, where Stuart Law held a sharp catch to his left. Law was in the action again, this time diving to his right to Matt Prior after he'd looked dangerous.

The middle order was missing Luke Wright, out with a back spasm following the one-day series, but Martin-Jenkins led a post-lunch fightback, striking a positive half-century. Carl Hopkinson helped him at 88 before becoming Keedy's second wicket, snapped up at short extra-cover by Flintoff. Martin-Jenkins was proving more troublesome to dislodge and, shortly before tea, Law turned to Faf du Plessis' leg spin. It did the trick, although Martin-Jenkins will have nightmares about his shot as he missed an attempted pull against a long hop.

With the looming challenge of South Africa, inevitably there will be plenty of focus on Flintoff, especially given England's poor results in the one-day series against New Zealand. He has been handled extremely careful during the recovery process from his side strain, beginning with a gentle second XI outing before a return to bowling in the Twenty20 and now this Championship fixture. But one four-day match is precious little time to prove fitness (and form) ahead of a crucial Test series.

The buzzword whenever Flintoff has bowled this season - on both sides of his injury - has been pace, with batsmen throughout the country being made to hop about. But the surface at Hove didn't offer him the life of Old Trafford. He bowled two seven-over spells, his first costing just nine runs, and kept the batsmen on their toes. The selectors will decide on Thursday whether he's done enough. Before that he has some serious batting to do, and it's an understatement to say that side of his game hasn't gone too well this season.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo