Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick
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Gloucestershire 195 (Hammond 48, Carson 3-19, Currie 3-36, Hunt 3-52) and 113 for 5 (Hunt 3-19) need another 400 runs to beat Sussex 202 and 505 for 7 dec (Coles 128, Alsop 79, Hudson-Prentice 71*)
Whether or not Sussex win their final match of the season - and they were well placed to beat Gloucestershire at the close on day three - could be the difference between finishing third or fifth in Division Two; between narrowly missing out on promotion or midtable mediocrity. Although in truth, as is the way with superficial summaries, neither would be an entirely accurate portrayal of how the campaign has gone.
Paul Farbrace's arrival over the winter came with a challenge for Sussex: to stop talking about potential and start doing the business on the pitch. The club, having made a public commitment to developing young players as a way of tightening their belt financially, had managed just three first-class victories - one per season - over the previous three summers. In 2022, they finished second from bottom in Division Two.
Farbrace openly spoke of promotion as the goal for this year, and they made the perfect start by beating eventual Division Two champions Durham in a close season-opener at Hove. But an inability to drive home the advantage led to a succession of draws and Sussex had to wait until the 12th round before they achieved victory for the second time. Perversely enough, that 15-run win over Leicestershire was also the end of their promotion challenge - two further umpiring penalties taking the club's tally to four for the season and resulting in an automatic points deduction, effectively ending any hopes of pipping Worcestershire to second spot.
The mood of optimism has been tempered, with questions asked of the club hierarchy both at the members' forum during the Gloucestershire game and in interviews with Jon Filby, Sussex's chair, and Farbrace on the livestream. Among issues raised with Filby during an occasionally testy discussion with the BBC's Adrian Harms were the club's youth policy, matters of player discipline, Farbrace being linked with the Kent director of cricket job, and whether Ollie Robinson's injury-enforced absence from the season run-in was genuine after the fast bowler was spotted caddying for his girlfriend at the PGA Championship Pro-Am earlier this month (it was, Filby assured listeners).
Farbrace retains the "complete and absolute support" of the Sussex board, Filby added, and the head coach has already been making his assessments of where improvement can be made. While admitting that the job had perhaps been "a bit tougher than I thought it would be", Farbrace indicated that Sussex would be aiming to bring in a number of signings to add an experienced core to the squad.
"We have got some very talented youngsters and we very clearly need some experienced, solid cricketers on the field to help the players," Farbrace told the BBC, adding that it may take a couple more seasons to achieve the right blend.
"We probably need to bring in four or five senior players … It will probably take us two winters of good recruitment, get some really good senior players - men - around some of these young lads, and then I think the team will grow very quickly from that point onwards."
One of those who won't be joining for next season is Chris Wright, however. Sussex announced the signing of Wright from Leicestershire in June, alongside that of Lancashire allrounder Danny Lamb, but Farbrace revealed that a change of family situation would prevent the 38-year-old seamer from fulfilling his contract.
Sussex could bring in an overseas signing to captain the side, although it seems unlikely that Pujara will return in the role. Pujara, who averaged 79.22 across two seasons of Championship cricket (and 84.00 in the One-Day Cup), was suspended for the penultimate game at Derby and duly flew back to India ahead of his involvement in the Irani Cup with Saurashtra.
There is no doubt that Sussex still have a depth of homegrown talent to draw on, and the emergence of James Coles in the middle order has been one of the undoubted success stories of Farbrace's first season in charge. Coles started the summer in the seconds but has been ever-present since forcing his way into the first team after two rounds of the Championship, scoring his maiden first-class hundred in May and adding his third in the ongoing game against Gloucestershire. Coles is just 19 but finishes the season as Sussex's second-leading run-scorer, with the club anticipating that involvement with England Lions is not far off.
Coles' efforts here underpinned a position of second-innings dominance for the home side. He was involved in a stand worth 155 with his captain, Tom Alsop, although received a left-off on 93 when Zafar Gohar put down a catch at fine leg off the bowling of Zaman Akhtar (Gohar also dropped Alsop, off the unfortunate Akhtar, earlier in the morning session). Further stands worth 79 and 68 followed with Oli Carter and Fynn Hudson-Prentice - the latter coming in the space of seven overs as Hudson-Prentice thrashed a 26-ball half-century.
A target of 513 looked like being more than enough as Sussex set about making quick inroads with the new ball - although they are fielding a depleted attack and it is only two weeks since tempers flared as Leicestershire came close to chasing 499, while Glamorgan escaped earlier in the season after a first-innings blowout by making 737 second time around.
As well as being without Robinson in this match, Sussex were missing their leading wicket-taker in the Championship, Ari Karvelas, with the fast bowler under investigation for another incident in the Leicestershire game. That Karvelas was referred to the ECB by the club themselves, over a comment reportedly directed at Leicestershire's overseas player Umar Amin, only adds to the sense of a narrative yet to be fully formed.
Speaking on the livestream, Farbrace admitted that he was happy to "ruffle a few feathers" and it has certainly been a season at Hove to leave one or two sitting uneasily in their deckchairs. But victory over Gloucestershire on Friday would secure a third win of the summer, and third place in Division Two might be regarded, after all, as tangible sign of progress.
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