Seamers take centre stage to sink Sussex
Lancashire 335 and 24 for 0 beat Sussex 195 and 163 (Cork 5-58) by 10 wickets
This mouthwatering game between last year's champions and this year's favourites ended in a booming win for the new pretenders. In 2003, Lancashire did not manage a single three-day win; but for Wednesday afternoon's deluge, they might have won here inside two. On this evidence, nothing but the weather can hold them back: after Stuart Law's breathtaking innings yesterday, their seamers took centre stage today - and barely fluffed a line.
Sussex began the day - another bathed in sumptuous spring sunshine - 89 behind, but with all ten second-innings wickets intact. The weather was so glorious that optimism among the home crowd took fanciful flight. Murmurs were heard about a last-day declaration. Those whispers, emanating from the members' enclosure, were slightly louder than over the first two days, partly because of Sussex's improved performance on Thursday, and partly because the members were getting to grips with the new ID-card scheme. For the first time, passport-sized photos are required to avoid the cards being shared around to gain free entry. Such is the price of Sussex's success.
Those wearers of rose-tinted spectacles were still hoping for a day echoing with the sound of rattling boundary boards when Sussex suffered their first setback. Ian Ward and Richard Montgomerie had taken the score to 64, and the deficit to 76, when Peter Martin surprised Ward with bounce and movement, and Warren Hegg took a straightforward catch.
Still, Montgomerie and Murray Goodwin moved the score along to 90 for 1, and the optimists' position looked just about tenable. The Lancashire seamers, though, were hitting their stride, hitting the deck and now hitting the stumps. Sajid Mahmood bowled three successive awayswingers then, ten minutes after midday, followed them up with one that came in. Montgomerie shouldered arms and saw his off stump disappear. It spoke volumes about Mahmood's maturity: Martin Bicknell memorably did the same to South Africa's Jacques Rudolph at The Oval last summer.
Montgomerie, who carried his bat on Wednesday, had hung around for 115 balls for his 27, but his departure punctured the Sussex innings. Goodwin was trapped lbw by Dominic Cork, who cast off yesterday's golden duck to spearhead the Lancashire attack. Chris Adams later said he thought "Cork had really added something to this Lancashire side." Not that Adams had any chance to look closely at him today: he too got a first-baller, spooning a leading edge from Mahmood to backward point.
With Robin Martin-Jenkins - another leg-before victim for Cork - lasting just three deliveries, Sussex, now 96 for 5, had lost four wickets for six runs in ten balls. Against other attacks, there might have been a way back, but Lancashire were magnificent: "For Gary Keedy [who took ten Sussex wickets last September] not to take part in the game was testament to how their seamers bowled," conceded Adams. Cork ripped through the tail to grab his first Lancashire five-for. In just 88 minutes either side of lunch, the Sussex ship had sunk from 90 for 1 to 163 all out.
That may have been fast, but it was nothing to what followed. In order to remedy their parlous over rate on the second day, Sussex zipped through the overs like demented greyhounds. In little more than 15 minutes, they bowled almost nine overs - the time Lancashire needed to make 24 and win by ten wickets - but at least Sussex avoided the hefty two-point penalty levied on Lancashire. "I'll take a couple of points lost," reflected Warren Hegg afterwards, "to win a match against a team that's going to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season." Will they?
Hugh Chevallier is deputy editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.