Sussex 430 (Nash 118, Wells 85, Archer 59, Jordan 58) lead Worcestershire 231 for 8 (Clarke 77, Jordan 3-61) by 199 runs
The follow-on may only be 50 runs away, but with just two wickets left, Worcestershire need to scrap for their lives to save this match. The chaos beneath runaway leaders Nottinghamshire might just lead us to a thrilling climax for that second promotion spot and that may well be instigated by Sussex, who find themselves in a near perfect position: 199 ahead, tails up from two days of absorbing cricket.
The brunt of Sussex's work with the bat was done at the back end of their innings, as the last five wickets combined to more than double their score, from the score from 180 for 5 to 430 all out. Of the 88 runs added this morning, Jofra Archer provided 53 of them in a entertaining cameo that brought up his fourth first class half-century, from 77 balls. He hit six fours, one towering, charging six over midwicket, was bowled twice and caught on the hook. Sadly for Worcestershire and Ed Barnard, only the last of those three dismissals counted.
Twice, Barnard bowled Archer - top of off, just as they preach. Twice he over-stepped. Archer, on seven and then 29, was allowed to fight another day. Had a batsmen been bowled by the same bowler twice off no balls before in the same innings? Who knows. It is doubtful the 11 from Worcestershire were too concerned with performances past. Those were moments to rue in the present.
It had started so well for them: Chris Jordan added just one to his overnight score before he was bowled by Josh Tongue and Worcestershire curtailed Sussex's scoring. Perhaps Sussex could have stretched themselves for full batting points. Worcestershire would have cleaned up all three bowling points had Barnard not overstretched. His second "dismissal" of Archer came in the 110th over - the last when bowling points could be picked up - and, as if to mock the home side, the ninth Sussex wicket fell in the 111th, when Tom Fell took a stunning one-handed catch, diving to his right at midwicket, to remove Danny Briggs.
Fell might have thought he had set down a marker for Catch of the Summer. For the best part of an hour, he might have even mentally rearranged his mantlepiece to make space for the accolade. But in the 17th over of Worcestershire's first innings, with Fell at the crease, it was cruelly stripped from him when he timed perfectly and low to midwicket, only for Archer to stick out a left-hand and pull off a even better grab.
By that point, Worcestershire were three down for 60, with openers Daryl Mitchell - often the host's best hope when batting time - and Brett D'Oliveira dismissed by Archer and David Wiese respectively, both caught by Harry Finch at second slip. The target of 281 to avoid the follow-on a fair way off. Then, up stepped Joe Clarke.
For a while, it looked like he had taken guard, scratched the crease and started his innings on the wrong pitch. No one, not even day one centurion Chris Nash, timed the ball as well as Clarke. In the 22nd over, he hit three fours through three slightly different angles at cover off the bowling off Stuart Whittingham, before nailing Wiese for back-to-back fours through wide mid on with the drop of the wrist then deliberately edging him to third man. His half-century came off 37 balls and featured nine boundaries so good they'd make your teeth rot.
Yet, as those half-century numbers suggest, this was no swashbuckling effort to keep Sussex from the door. Clarke was simply able to make use of any minor misjudgement to put runs on the board and force the visitors into defensive measures that belied their dominant footing in the match.
For the longest time, discussion around of international honours for Clarke has centred on "when" rather than "if" and, now, those same parameters are being applied at New Road to talk of his future. His current deal expires at the end of the 2018 season and other so called "bigger" counties are keeping tabs on developments (they'd be foolish not to). But Clarke, to his credit, has taken the rumours in his stride. Where he might once have put too much value on the talk of others, in Lions squads and England chatter, he realises the value in getting his head down and focusing on the here and now. Clarity through maturity.
What ultimately did for him today was the loss of two partners in George Rhodes and Ben Cox, which meant he had to retreat. At one point, he was 63 from 53 balls, but the necessary change of approach saw that latter figure catch up with the former before a misjudgment outside off stump to his 79th ball gave Finch his fourth catch of the innings.
Finch would make it five when John Hastings found him at cover, making him the sixth Sussex outfielder to take five catches in first class innings and the first since Javed Miandad back in 1976. It was that sort of day. Any joy for Worcestershire was trumped by even more for Sussex.