Mushtaq keeps Sussex in the game
Sussex 106 (Lewis 5-33) and 8 for 0 trail Gloucestershire 300 (Mushtaq Ahmed 5-58) by 186 runs at Arundel
A contented crowd basked in a day's cricket at Arundel Castle that smacked distinctly of country-house knockabouts of the golden age. The sun shone almost all day (as it did in any golden age worth the name). The crowd happily succumbed to the charm of the ancient trees, the pristine marquees and the cool drinks at a beautiful ground, a picture in green and white. Sussex's bowling, Mushtaq Ahmed aside, was on the gentle side of threatening. And in the afternoon Gloucestershire, in the very best tradition of country-house games, decided that to grind the other chap into the ground when he's down, is, well, not quite the done thing, and allowed Sussex to keep alive a slim hope of avoiding defeat. Sussex finished the day 8 for 0 in their second innings, still 186 behind.
A day of relentless Gloucestershire accumulation might not have suited the lazy mood, but it would certainly have boosted their own healthy chances of winning the Championship. They could have ground Sussex under the millstone today and started with intent. After resuming with 63 for 0, the regular tap-tap of the bat made a soothing accompaniment appropriate to the gracious ground. Only Sussex's bowlers and their frustrated captain, Chris Adams, failed to enjoy the mellow morning sunshine: they had to fathom how to drag ten recalcitrant wickets out of a slow but true pitch, on which 300 was par. Yesterday Adams's side had managed 106.
Before a passing shower sent players and a healthy crowd scurrying for an early lunch at 1pm, Gloucestershire added 92 unhurried runs, for the loss of two wickets. In the sunshine Philip Weston rekindled memories of less careworn days in 1992 when English cricket seemed at his feet and he was voted the Cricket Society's most promising player. He reached 81, authoritative but never dominant, before top-edging a hook and taking his leave shortly before the showers arrived.
No-one thought it would matter: Gloucestershire had got bat over ball comfortably enough, any spin for Mushtaq seemed to die in the pitch and Gloucestershire, at 172 for 2, looked set for an intimidating total. They got a useful one - 300 exactly. For keeping it to that, Sussex could thank Mushtaq. At 12.20pm he stripped off two of his many layers of sweatshirts and began at the Park End. When he finally got to rest his spinning fingers at 6.05, after a marathon spell, he had the remarkable figures of 30-10-58-5. Throughout he bounded in like a well-fed young pup.
At first he struggled to find his line, then he slowed the runs and then, before tea, the wickets came: Chris Taylor edged a legbreak, Matt Windows swept and missed and suddenly Gloucestershire were 177 for 4 and beginning to worry about their long tail.
Sussex had the batsmen trapped in a ring of iron, with the scoring dribbling down to less than two an over. Mark Alleyne and Alex Gidman, neither looking comfortable, both fell to the seamers, and after tea Mushtaq bamboozled two more with the googly. Late slogging allowed Gloucestershire to add 65 for the last two wickets.
What a man this Mushtaq is. Almost 34 years old, and with 50 Test caps for Pakistan in the past, he could be forgiven for coming to the relative backwater of the Championship, turning his arm over, taking the money and running. Instead, he has come to Sussex, the most English of English counties, taken 103 wickets to end a 113-year wait for a first Championship, and become a folk hero. Seldom have such deadly wicket-taking skills and such thoroughgoing congeniality been seen in one man.
Paul Coupar is assistant editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.