Nottinghamshire close in on second spot
Nottinghamshire 328 and 236 for 7 (Read 64*, S Patel 54, Smith 3-50) lead Sussex 243 by 321 runs
So far as Sussex were concerned, only pride was at stake. For Nottinghamshire, there was the not inconsiderable matter of £225,000 to be won as runners-up to Durham thanks to the largesse of the ECB, whose decision to sanction a massive increase in prize money for the County Championship meant at least something good came out of the panic induced by the IPL.
Whether it does much, in the long-term, to preserve the supposed primacy of four-day cricket remains to be seen. In the meantime, it ensured that this game did not simply wither and die after Sussex's fate was settled on Thursday. Michael Yardy's team may have wished - secretly, at least - that they could fast-forward to Worcester on Sunday, when they will hope to regain the winning feeling by clinching the Pro40 title, but the home side's focus was entirely on collecting enough points to finish ahead of Somerset and Warwickshire.
With six bonus points in the bag, they knew a draw would ensure Somerset's final points tally was bettered. A win might have been necessary to keep Warwickshire at bay but with Lancashire completing an easy victory at Old Trafford, that requirement became redundant.
Bad light ended play more than an hour early, but at 236 for 7, with a lead of 321, Nottinghamshire may already have enough to insure themselves against defeat. A decent finish would give an end-of-season fillip to spectators frustrated by the high number of drawn matches this year, but Chris Read's priority will be to take no risks. Second place will at least partially redeem a pretty ordinary season for the Trent Bridge outfit, who have not won a match of any description since June.
Nottinghamshire had lost a wicket to the fourth ball of the innings before bad light intervened on Thursday evening and their start to day three was wobbly, with another casualty to the 10th ball of the morning as Luke Fletcher, the nightwatchman, was struck on the pad shouldering arms to Corey Collymore and was made to wait an age before umpire Nick Cook raised his finger.
Dwayne Smith swung one in to trap Mark Wagh in front as the batsman tried to work the ball to leg, leaving Nottinghamshire 15 for 3. Happily for the home side, Samit Patel, after a mixed season, emerged in his Captain Sensible hat - figuratively speaking - and with Alex Hales negotiated a safe passage to lunch at 63 for 3, a six flicked behind square off Smith a rare moment of aggression.
Patel's concentration wavered after the interval, however, and though he completed his half-century off 77 balls it was not long before he fell into the trap set by Smith, hooking a short ball obligingly to Robin Martin-Jenkins at long leg.
When Hales, who faced 147 balls for his 38, was then bowled by a Piyush Chawla googly, quickly followed by Ali Brown's departure to another inswinger from Smith, Notts were in some trouble at 107 for 6, with the prospect of Sussex having to chase less than 250.
As ever, though, Nottinghamshire found their captain, Read, to be the model of dependability. The former England wicketkeeper has been rescuing his side from similarly tricky positions all season and came to their aid again here.
He found an adhesive partner this time in Akhil Patel - Samit's younger brother - who took 19 balls to get off the mark after his first-innings duck but gave himself something to be pleased with from his Championship debut by contributing 37 to a stand of 80 with his captain, playing some confident drives after his initial struggles before edging a catch behind as he went to cut Chris Nash's offspin.
The light was beginning to fade by now but there was still time for 40-year-old Mark Ealham, walking out for the last innings of his first-class career at the end of his 21st season, to be welcomed with a guard of honour from the Sussex players in a gesture he clearly appreciated on an emotional day.
The former England all-rounder, who departs with more than 11,300 first-class runs to his name, will resume on 23 with Read on 64.