Sussex 172 (Kleinveldt 5-50) and 382 for 9 (Archer 74*, Robson 72, Nash 66, Wiese 61) lead Northamptonshire 426 (Duckett 193) by 128 runs
Usually, a fightback of this magnitude is saved for the silver screen. But at Wantage Road, in front of a crowd that died down at tea with a Northamptonshire win looking a foregone conclusion, Sussex threw counter-punches that Rocky Balboa would be proud of to take us to a fourth round. Somehow, they have amassed a lead that, combined with a few more lusty blows tomorrow, could leave Northants facing a difficult fourth-innings chase.
The two key protagonists were Jofra Archer and David Wiese - two allrounders in a Jack of All Trades Sussex tail. The pair came together with a deficit of eight set against Northamptonshire's first innings of 426, with just two wickets left in their follow-on innings. In the space of 15 overs, they dovetailed brilliantly to thrash 124 for the ninth-wicket, taking their side into a lead that by stumps had been boosted to 128.
Archer, the more dashing of the two, hit through the line of the ball emphatically, while also finding boundaries square: two back-to-back fours off Simon Kerrigan (through midwicket and then point) took him to his half-century from 80 balls. That's not to say Wiese was a slouch: his second fifty of the summer came up from 55-balls with a huge six, also off Kerrigan, into the roof of the Lynn Wilson Centre that sits opposite the pavilion.
Without wanting to pour too much misery onto the left-arm spinner, who has bowled well in this match, it was his error that let the partnership get this far. When Archer was on 15, the scoreboard reading 249 for 8 (trailing by three), Kerrigan set himself at deep square leg under a wild hook but was unable to take a routine catch. While Wiese was eventually trapped lbw by Richard Gleeson, Archer remains unbeaten overnight having beaten his previous career-best score of 73, achieved last summer against Essex at Colchester.
For Northamptonshire, the toil of almost two days in the field took its toll. What control there was to skittle Sussex out for 172 in their first innings on day two and then grind away for the next eight wickets was lost when the second new ball arrived. Rory Kleinveldt, who removed Luke Wright and Ben Brown in the space of three balls, could not persist with an off-stump line that has given him eight wickets in this match so far. Richard Gleeson, troubling batsmen throughout with his extra pace and bounce, particularly from the Wantage Road End, sprayed a few down the leg side and looked fed up by stumps. The enthusiasm in the field was long gone by the time the umpires took the players off for bad light.
Northants skipper Alex Wakely talked openly of a quiet dressing room that felt they should have already been tucking into some celebratory beers rather than nursing some wounds and preparing to go again on the morrow. As Archer and Wiese showed, the pitch is still playing true and as awkward as a chase of, say, 150, might be, Northants are still favourites.
Sussex were steady for the first 45 overs of the day, which only brought one wicket: Stiaan van Zyl edging through to David Murphy off the bowling of Gleeson. Angus Robson and Chris Nash were any plays-and-misses behind them to bat for the best part of 29 overs. In that time, Robson was able to move to his first half-century of the season, from 100 balls, in his third match for Sussex.
Released from his contract with Leicestershire earlier this season, citing differences with the head coach Pierre de Bruyn, who left his post earlier this week, he was taken on for a season-long trial at Sussex. Prolific form in the 2nd XI, combined with a misfiring top-order saw Robson given his full-debut for the club in their win against Worcestershire at New Road.
The opening position has been an issue down at Hove. With Luke Wells coming into the season with an injury, Sussex were close to signing Surrey's Arun Harinath on loan as cover before that did not come to pass. Instead, Harry Finch and Nash took on new ball duties with limited success. While Nash has been moved back into the middle order, Finch has been dropped after averaging just 22.5 from 16 innings and Robson given the chance to do what he has done for most of his career: respect the good ones, go after the bad ones. This was his 28th first-class and one that he could and should have converted to what would have been only his third career hundred.
But when he pressed forward and edged Kerrigan to first slip, after the left-arm spinner had changed to over the wicket to make use of the footmarks on leg stump, it set about an almighty collapse of four wickets in the space of six overs. A sound position of 173 for two was decimated to 193 for six.
That eventually became 246 for 8, when Nash was helpless to keep out a low delivery from Mohammad Azharullah that left one stump standing. Sussex's hopes of saving face and promotion had all but gone and plans were made by most to spend Friday elsewhere. Instead, tomorrow brings a fascinating conclusion.