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Gidman 99* - but it's the point that counts as tension mounts

Sussex 180 (Brown 54) and 42 for 2 trail Kent 496 (Gidman 99*, Stevens 74, Billings 69, Magoffin 5-88) by 274 runs
Scorecard

This was a bonus point that mattered. There really are such things. Will Gidman knew it. It had been his sole objective for five hours. On the dressing room balcony, Kent's players could think of little else. While some spectators gazed upon a Hove ground clad in sunshine, and indulged in the bittersweet regret of the first day of September, the professionals were doing sums. Essex were too far ahead at the top of Division Two already. Not a point could be wasted.

A lap of the Hove ground on a gorgeous afternoon. Kent's prospects of achieving 400 had looked meagre when they closed the first day at 211 for 5, 15 wickets lost in all, seam bowlers in command. But Gidman and Darren Stevens had batted through the morning unscathed and, although Stevens' poles had gone walkabout to the first delivery with the second new ball from Steve Magoffin, Sussex's angular metronome, Kent were 38 short with 10 overs left and seven down.

From the darkest recesses of a dark bar, a barman with no view of the game waved to attract attention. Just hoping he might sell a lager. He would not see Matt Coles, a muscular smiter, nodding anxiously at Gidman and promising that Conscientious was his middle name.

Only four runs added from two overs. Fielders repeatedly hit. On the balcony, Daniel Bell-Drummond fiddled with his sunglasses and looked unperturbed. The hotchpotch of stands were well populated. Kent had drawn the biggest Championship crowd of the season. They watched patiently, mixing cricket talk with family worries. "Good stop… Nell's out of hospital." An elderly man dropped his scorecard and winced slightly as he picked it up. A snatch of an REM song - "Will you live to 83, will you ever welcome me?" - briefly came to mind.

Hove is a wonderful ground to watch square of the wicket even for those who prefer to sit behind the arm. There are beaches which shelve less fiercely than the rush of the ground towards the sea end. The tilt of the ground adds an extra dimension, especially when the pitch is near the edge of the square. A fast bowler dashing down the slope can be a terrifying prospect. Ajmal Shahzad is not terrifying but Gidman ignored his bouncer all the same with two men back. Coles stole a boundary off Ollie Robinson, a bowler with an air of breeding, but forced to do the hard yards uphill.

A light plane passed overheard, glinting in cloudless skies, drowning the distant clamour of the gulls. Henry Hawk, a kite brought from Devon, to try to keep the seagulls at bay, swayed gently by the side of the south-west stand. The scorecard showed the balls gradually being whittled away. A man in the Players Club rose from his seat, in search of a coffee or a comfort break. Another suddenly grabbed his binoculars and looked on intently - the focus of his interest hard to know.

Still 28 needed from six. Wickets now could scotch the plan. "Danny Briggs," announced the Sussex scorer, Mike Charman, sitting in for the regular PA announcer with aplomb. Few spinners possess such gentle rhythms, but Briggs' switch from Hampshire has been a challenging one. The pitches rarely turn, certainly not for Briggs, and the boundaries are short. His bowling in four-day cricket is the epitome of niceness, with all the negatives the word can convey. Coles missed a sweep and settled for a maiden. Briggs knew he was not going to settle for another one.

From a marquee at the Sea End, Martin Corry, a former back row forward for Leicester and England, gathered pace in a speech for the Wooden Spoon charity. Kent sought to gather pace with him. Laughter burst from the marquee: the speech was going well. Gidman edged Shahzad at catchable height wide of first slip. Kent, 22 needed from four, were not quite as confident.

In the Life Members stand above the media box, a man in a Joyce replica shirt fiddled with his shoelaces. Across the ground, spectators had set their deckchairs upright. It was here, about 25 years ago, where I had hoped to introduce myself to the Guardian's football correspondent, David Lacey, only for him to doze, deckchair on the lowest setting, through the entire afternoon session with that morning's paper on his lap.

Briggs bowling to Coles might have been a mix-up of Olympic sports: the grace of a gymnast met by the primal threat of a wrestler. Coles finally opened his shoulders and heaved him to long-on, where he was caught to cheers - but only by a spectator 10 rows back. A four followed, slogged flatter this time.

All this tension for a point. A point that might prove not to matter if Essex scoot the division by 40 points. Or which might prove to be priceless on the last afternoon of the season when the sides are locked at Canterbury and Kent are scenting a table-turning victory.

Six from three overs; a woman in a flowery sunhat returned to her crossword, confident the job was as good as done. Gidman had the luxury of digging in and playing out a maiden. "Come on Briggsy," Sussex exhorted, but Coles now looked twice the size. He reverse-swept the first ball for four and stole a single into the leg side off a glove. On 399, Briggs clamoured for lbw as another reverse from Gidman this time went awry, but the appeal was lost, the leg bye taken.

"Come on Sussex, show some fight," came a cry from the crowd. The game was lost; the pressure released, Kent's lead would soon be rushing past 300. In the marquee, Corry's speech done, the audience was laughing and applauding. Kent's captain, Sam Northeast walked down the steps from the dressing room and hollered congratulations. Kent were now laughing and applauding, too.

Gidman would be left stranded on 99 not out, missing his sixth first-class century in frustrating fashion, Magoffin claiming a five-for as Mitch Claydon drove a slower ball to mid-off. Sheepish apologies followed.

For five-and-three-quarter hours, Gidman had steeled Kent's ambitions. Few will gush over their evening meals about what they had witnessed, especially in Sussex. His wagon wheel suggested he struck only two off side boundaries, one of those the edge past slip, one authentic stroke against Robinson - but some insisted they had seen more, and anyway he had achieved his objective. September is upon us and Kent are not giving up without a fight.