Chapple gives Lancashire fight chance
Sussex 316 and 14 for 0 (Nash 8*, Thornely 6*) need 162 more runs to beat Lancashire 206 for 285 (Law 73, Chapple 52*, Lewry 3-39)
At 114 for 6, just four runs ahead and four second-innings wickets left Lancashire looked dead and buried soon after lunch on the third day of their match against Sussex. But then the worm - or the tail - turned. Their last four wickets added 171 runs and gave the home side a small chance of seizing a remarkable victory on the final day.
Gary Keedy, the night-watchman, drove the fourth ball of the day handsomely through the covers for four. It was not a foretaste of what was to come. Within fifteen minutes both overnight batsmen were gone. The high-scoring opener, Paul Horton, was caught on the crease as he pushed at a ball from Robin Martin-Jenkins, and caught at the wicket for 6. Keedy did not score again, though he did try; in his position his team would have preferred him to stick around and hold up an end, instead of which he chose the wrong ball from Jason Lewry to attack, and was yorked. Lancashire, already trailing on first innings by 110 runs, were now 14 for 3.
However, the two new batsmen, Iain Sutcliffe and Stuart Law, seemed to encounter few problems. They looked untroubled as they settled in, and Sutcliffe played a couple of delightful off-side strokes until, with 25 to his credit, he was caught in the gully. The bowler was Ollie Rayner, who put in an impressive spell of offspin, finding considerable turn at times from the helpful pitch.
Rayner was thrown the ball before Mushtaq Ahmed, who seemed concerned to avoid putting stress on his knee in the field. Astute batsmen would have tried to target him, but the Lancashire players did not test him too strenuously. When he came on to bowl, he sent down some testing deliveries, and the usual outrageous appeals, but also bowled quite a number of loose balls that initially went unpunished.
Immediately after lunch, Faf du Plessis fell, unwisely padding up to an inswinger from Lewry and being adjudged lbw for 15. Steven Croft followed for 7, out to a strange dismissal: he moved outside the off stump to pad up to Rayner, only to find the ball turning more than he expected, and he played on to his stumps via the pad. This was the point where Lancashire were six down for 114.
All this time Law had been playing a solid captain's innings, not trying to dominate but waiting sensibly for the loose ball to dispatch without taking risks. He temporarily hit Mushtaq out of the attack, seizing on three short deliveries to pull to the midwicket boundary and his fifty came off 95 deliveries. At last he found a reliable partner in Luke Sutton and, despite the turning pitch, the pair made batting look a comfortable occupation as they held firm, keeping the score ticking over and playing the percentage game.
They added 67 together and looked good for many more, so it was a surprise and disappointment - except to the Sussex team - when Law seemed to lose concentration; uncharacteristically he played a loose drive at Lewry and was easily caught at extra cover for 73. Sutton too followed, on the stroke of tea, to a bat-pad catch for 34, and Sussex regained the initiative at the same time of day as they had almost lost it 24 hours earlier.
When it seemed that Lancashire might subside quietly, Glen Chapple and Dominic Cork launched an exhilarating attack on the spinners. Chapple started it, driving two fours off Mushtaq in the same over, and Cork, though taking longer to play himself in, suddenly had Rayner in his sights and hammered him for 18 in an over, including two sixes. He continued his assault, overtaking Chapple and racing to the forties with 13 off Rayner's next over.
Rayner came off, but Chris Adams kept faith with Mushtaq, even though the second new ball was available, and Cork obliged by sending up a huge skyer that was taken at mid-off. The pair had added 78 for the ninth wicket; Cork had made 43 off 36 balls, with two sixes and five fours. This stand effectively ruined Sussex's chances of winning the match on the third day, which no doubt was their aim if they had read the unfavourable weather forecast for Saturday.
Chapple wasn't finished yet, and he lined up Mushtaq again with some more powerful strokes until he reached his 50, which came off 59 balls. The last pair added a troublesome 26 before Sajid Mahmood was run out backing up, as Lewry got a fingertip from a push back down the pitch by Chapple, to nudge the ball on to the stumps. Usually this is cruel luck for the victim of cricket's most unfair law, but on this occasion it seemed that Mahmood was simply not paying attention.
Chapple was unbeaten with 52, and Sussex now needed 176 to win, a target that could not be achieved in the remaining time on the third day. If at all, as Lancashire would contend.
With only a single on the board, Chris Nash was dropped, a hard chance in the gully off Cork, a miss that might prove crucial. Sussex made sure of entering the final day as favourites by keeping all their wickets intact by the close. This match last year was a major turning point in the Championship, and it may well prove to be the same again. If either side wins, it will be a great fillip to their title hopes - but the rain may yet take the honours.