Sussex follow on despite Nash hundred
Sussex 207 (Nash 106) and 118 for 2 (Yardy 60*, Goodwin 15*) trail Yorkshire 400 for 9 dec (Rashid 111, Wainwright 104*) by 75 runs
Barring a turnaround at Canterbury of the magnitude that Yorkshire themselves pulled off in the first innings of this contest at Hove, Sussex - the reigning County Champions - are assured of First Division cricket next summer. But they have not gone about it the easy way. After the first day of this match they had been in total control with Yorkshire, their main relegation rivals, teetering at 84 for 6 in their first innings. Instead, they go into the final day of the season needing another 75 runs to avoid an innings defeat, after letting their ascendancy dribble away from one session to the next.
Fortunately for Sussex, Kent are conjuring up an even worse performance in their grand finale against Durham, and therefore the result of this contest ought (ought ...) to be academic. For the time being, however, there is a match (and, potentially, a season) to be saved, and between the efforts of Chris Nash in the first innings, and Michael Yardy in the second, Sussex are doing just enough to make the draw the most likely result. By the close, Yardy - the club's newly appointed captain for 2009 - was 60 not out from 121 balls, a performance that, coupled with the Canterbury scoreline, had served to drain the tension in Sussex's ranks.
If both Kent and Sussex do succumb on the final day, however - and their first-innings collapse of 4 for 14 in nine overs suggests it's not out of the question - then the man to whom Sussex's plaudits must belong will be Nash, whose superb 106 from 184 balls was instrumental in securing the vital bonus point that enabled them to leapfrog Kent on 155 points to 154. Nash had been the only man to look remotely comfortable during their collapse on the first evening, when Matthew Hoggard and Adil Rashid reduced them to 25 for 3, and he was once again the kingpin of the line-up as he breezed to the second first-class century of his career.
Not for the first time in the match, batting was made to look a simple task while the sun was shining in the morning session, and Sussex seemed comfortably placed at lunch on 112 for 4. Murray Goodwin was superbly stumped down the leg-side by Gerard Brophy off the medium pace of Steve Patterson, but Nash and Matt Prior had added 48 for the fifth wicket, with Prior unbeaten on 25 and untroubled by the hand injury that forced him from the field on Thursday afternoon. After the break, however, Sussex's innings began to disintegrate.
Prior was the first to go, brilliantly caught one-handed at point by Rich Pyrah as he carved violently at a wide ball from Patterson. Chris Adams, in his final appearance as Sussex's captain, then fell one over later in a similar fashion, caught for a duck - again by Pyrah at point - but this time off Tim Bresnan. At 129 for 6, Sussex were still 71 runs adrift of that vital point, but Nash found a stable ally in Wright, and duly brought up his second first-class century in emphatic style - consecutive boundaries off Matthew Hoggard, a clip off the toes followed by a sweetly-timed square drive.
The pair added an invaluable 64 for the seventh wicket, and were within seven runs of their bonus point when David Wainwright's spin was belatedly called into the attack. His first ball was a rank long-hop, but the force was with him after his remarkable tail-end century, and Nash pulled his shot greedily, and straight to Adam Lyth at short midwicket. Robin Martin-Jenkins hung around long enough for Wright to take Sussex past 200, but was then adjudged lbw to Adil Rashid as he offered no shot to a straight one, and Wainwright snaffled the tail with two wickets in three balls, as Mohammad Sami and Jason Lewry both went tamely.
During the tea interval, Yorkshire enforced the follow-on - a decision that had cricketing merit but, ironically, meant that they have not yet killed off their own relegation worries. With Yardy taking the lead and Nash continuing in the same composed vein he had shown all day, Sussex's openers posted a first-wicket stand of 88 that enabled their anxious fans to settle more easily into their deckchairs. But then, out of the blue, Nash propped forward to Rashid and edged a simple chance to Jacques Rudolph at slip, and Wainwright, who is enjoying a glorious match, then pinned Carl Hopkinson plumb lbw with a full-length quicker delivery.
At this stage of proceedings, Sussex had few concerns despite their predicament, as the scoreline at Canterbury had Kent five-down for hardly any. By the end of the day, however, Justin Kemp and Ryan McLaren were turning their fortunes around in quite some style. There's still plenty to play for on the final day of the season.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo