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June 30, 2008
Lancashire 382 for 8 (Law 152*, Keedy 64) lead Sussex 253 by 129 runs
Sussex are probably fed up of watching Stuart Law bat on their home patch. His masterful 156, which pushed Lancashire to a valuable lead of 129, completed a hat-trick of centuries at Hove and it was a class above anything else on display in this match. Even though the pitch is offering precious little for the bowlers, Lancashire are now in a position to push for their second Championship victory of the season.
It was hard work for Sussex to prize out wickets on a slow surface that nullified the threat of a limping Mushtaq Ahmed. To put Sussex's disappointing first innings into context Gary Keedy, the nightwatchman, batted throughout the morning session as he registered his career-best in a 160-run stand with Law after Lancashire started on a precarious 67 for 4. Sussex fought back during the afternoon as Andrew Flintoff collected another failure, but Luke Sutton combined in a watchful stand of 89 and Lancashire's deep batting order frustrated Sussex during the final session.
Law, though, batted on a different level. His average against Sussex is 70 and in 17 matches against them (for Essex and Lancashire) he has 1613 runs. With such a record, Sussex were asking for trouble when they dropped him on 18 - a tough chance to Chris Adams at slip - and he was offered a second life when Jason Lewry spilled a much simpler opportunity at mid-on when Law was 101. It showed the class of Law that he was able to so easily switch between Twenty20 and four-day cricket.
His first Championship century of the season came off 173 balls and was punctuated by silky cover drives, deft cuts and neat placement. He was happy to bide his time against pace and spin and almost everything went along the deck, barring a lofted slog-sweep off Ollie Rayner after he'd passed three figures. "I've been coming down here a while and have always had some good tussles with Mushtaq," he told Sky Sports. "It hasn't been going well in the Championship this season and it was about time the batting knuckled down so it was a good effort today."
However, Law's batting prowess is well known. The same can't be said of Keedy, who has an average of 11. He has previously performed valuable nightwatchman roles, but never quite with this success. It helped him that Mushtaq was clearly not a full fitness while Corey Collymore was below-par in the first session. Keedy has limited scoring areas, but used them well as he clipped off his pads and punched through the off side.
His 157-ball innings passed his previous best which was 57 against Yorkshire in 2002. Mushtaq eventually extracted him from the crease, as Michael Yardy stayed low to take a good catch at silly point. After appearing flat during the long fifth-wicket stand, Sussex suddenly found a spark. Rayner, tossing up his offspin, bowled Steven Croft which one that didn't turn much and beat the outside edge.
Flintoff marched out at No. 8 - the position many would argue suits him these days - and drove his second ball just wide of Rayner for four. He was clearly itching to dominate, but didn't enjoy facing a twin spin attack. Rayner and Mushtaq tied him down, then trying to break free Flintoff came down the pitch and clubbed straight to midwicket. Shortly after heading off he was back in the nets, but it's time in the middle he really needs.
Importantly from the match situation, Sussex were right back in the contest with Lancashire still behind by 21. However, Sutton showed the composure that Flintoff lacked and helped take them into a lead alongside Law. Mushtaq eventually claimed his second to end the partnership, but Glen Chapple is far better than a No. 10.
Chapple wasn't afraid to use his feet against a tiring attack and Law brought up his 150 shortly before the close. The Sussex bowlers were a weary bunch, none more so than Mushtaq. He has hinted that this might be his final season, despite a contract than runs until 2009, and many more days like this could well sway his mind.
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