Yorkshire 251 (Magoffin 4-57) and 298 for 9 (Gale 67, Bresnan 50*, Jordan 3-73) lead Sussex 248 (Yardy 70, Brooks 3-55) by 301 runs

For much of this game Sussex's cricketers may have thought that Hampshire rather resembled Charles II in that they were taking an unconscionable time a-dying. Their insurance as they fought for parity against a powerful Yorkshire team at Headingley was that their rivals seemed to be finding it even more difficult to overcome Nottinghamshire. And they may have kept in the forefront of their minds the simple truth that if Hampshire did not win that match at Trent Bridge, they were relegated.

Then, at just after three o'clock on the penultimate day of the season, those delicate equations began to change. As Nottinghamshire's second-innings wickets fell to the pace of Fidel Edwards at Trent Bridge, Sussex surely realised that they may have a great deal of serious batting to do on the final day, albeit that they need only a draw to avoid relegation.

On a day when 19 overs were lost to prolonged midday showers, Yorkshire extended their overnight 58-run lead beyond 300 and Andrew Gale could contemplate the possibility of his side achieving an eleventh County Championship victory. This would establish a new record for the 16-match format and it would make a fitting end to a season when honours and compliments have been lavished on Gale's fine team like Christmas presents on a spoilt child.

Nottinghamshire had runners-up prize money to play for but the attraction of mere lucre did not appear sufficient incentive for Chris Read's players as they left Hampshire needing 200 to win and seemed to accommodate their opponents' rapid progress towards that goal.

None of this can have soothed Sussex's players but they still battled manfully both to contain and to dismiss Yorkshire and by close of play they had succeeded to the extent that the home side were 298 for 9, a lead of 301 with a little power to add on the final morning of the season.

Ed Joyce's bowlers offered few free gifts on the third day of this game but the pitch had eased rather. They were also met with stern resistance from most of Yorkshire's batsmen, but particularly from Gale, whose innings of 67 off 131 balls took him past a thousand County Championship runs for the season.

Gale is a skilled mechanic of a batsman: he knows the tucks and drives that work for him and he does not worry about the shots he cannot play, the acceleration he does not possess. His innings currently suggests a measure of permanence, so it was almost a surprise when he fell into the trap set by Joyce and clipped Chris Liddle to Chris Jordan at leg gully just after tea.

Sussex's piece of rather smart cricket ended a 168-minute innings which had begun 15 minutes into the morning session after Gary Ballance had bottom-edged a ball from Steve Magoffin on to his stumps when playing a cramped and rather ugly cut. Eleven overs later Adam Lyth was dismissed in similar fashion for 39 by Lewis Hatchett and Jonny Bairstow strode out to join his skipper with the score on 123 for 3.

The pair added 67 either side of the rain break and their 79-minute stand afforded one the opportunity to compare the styles of the two batsmen who have scored over a thousand Division One runs for Yorkshire in 2015.

Gale, as has been suggested, is a trifle functional but mightily effective. Bairstow has developed into a batsman of glittering quality this season and one does not need to support England to hope that he will soon make a Test hundred. At Headingley, Chester-le-Street, Edgbaston and Scarborough, runs have flamed from his bat, their rapid acquisition helped by a more refined defence.

Bairstow is now rarely bowled but he frequently demoralises bowlers. He has had a quiet match against Sussex - he was leg before to Jordan for a mere 36 on Thursday afternoon - but he still ends 2015 with a total of 1108 Championship runs in 12 completed innings at an average of 92.33. For many spectators, his batting has made the summer special, a coat-hook of memory by which it can be recalled.

Bairstow was out just as wickets were falling in Nottingham and his departure was soon followed by those of both Leaning, a fine player who has had an indifferent couple of months, and Gale. The tension increased as the consequences of failure for Sussex became even more apparent. Had Hampshire lost, it did not matter how Sussex performed. Now it seemed certain that it was going to matter a very great deal.

Gradually Adil Rashid, who made 21, and Tim Bresnan, who was unbeaten on 50 at the close, increased Yorkshire's lead.

The contest will be rejoined on the final morning of the season. The weather forecast is good and Sussex's batsman will have to defy the best attack in the land. The prize on offer will not be a golden goblet but the quite invisible reward of mere survival. But should Ed Joyce's players succeed in their goal, they may celebrate as if the pennant itself had returned to Hove and its sea-scented air.