A fine century from Michael Burgess, the second of his career, helped Sussex to a formidable first-innings score at the Fischer County Ground before Colin Ackermann, with an unbeaten half-century, led a spirited Leicestershire reply.
Burgess and Ishant Sharma compiled a partnership of 153 for Sussex’s eighth wicket, batting through the morning session without being parted.
Burgess, who began his career at Leicestershire, was first to his 50, twice hitting left-arm spinner Callum Parkinson over midwicket for six as he sought to accelerate the scoring rate. India Test bowler Sharma was equally positive as he registered a maiden first-class half-century, leaving his previous career best score of 31 well behind.
Sharma, who has played 81 Tests and 80 one day internationals for his country, clearly relished his battle with Leicestershire’s own international bowler Mohammad Abbas. The Pakistan seamer was convinced he had Sharma leg before on 34, but other than that neither batsman gave a chance as the partnership passed three figures. Sharma was finally dismissed for 66, attempting to loft off-spinner Ateeq Javid for a straight six, but failing to clear Gavin Griffiths at long-off.
Burgess had a fortunate escape on 98, pulling a delivery from Parkinson to midwicket, where Michael Carberry got both hands to the ball above his head but could not hold the chance. He went to his century off 146 balls, hitting five fours as well as the two maximums, before Sussex captain Ben Brown declared.
Buoyed by his success with the bat, Sharma then made an early breakthrough with the ball when he trapped Leicestershire opener Paul Horton leg before with a full delivery. Carberry, defending with purpose andreal determination, and the in-form Ackermann saw off the new ball, but Sharma returned to have Carberry adjudged leg before, half-forward to an in-swinger.
Sussex should have had a third wicket when Ackermann turned a David Wiese delivery straight to midwicket, only for Luke Wright, looking into the sun, to fail to hold a straightforward chance.
Sharma said afterwards: “I think I got my highest previous score (31) in a Test match, so I’m pretty happy – I wanted to do as well as I could for the team. Every bowler loves to have a bat, and in internationals you don’t get that many opportunities, especially for India, so I was looking forward to having an opportunity.
“I’ve been nightwatchman for India for four years now, so I’m used to the role. Michael [Burgess] and I just batted. I didn’t get nervous when I got close to 50, I wasn’t really thinking about it, just staying in my space. My main job is to take wickets, so I was probably more pleased about that. The wicket is a bit on the slow side, with more bounce from the top [Bennett] end. It’s good to get used to the conditions, and the soft grounds, I’m getting a lot of benefit from that.”
Burgess added: "I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it was probably a bit extra special to score a hundred against my old club, though I’ll always have a soft spot for Leicestershire, they gave me my first chance and I have a lot of really good friends here. Yesterday it was all about surviving until the close, and then the first hour this morning they bowled really well again, I probably only scored ten or 15 runs.
“Batting with “Ishy” was really enjoyable, the strike was rotating really nicely and we kicked on a bit after lunch. Having a contract is important in terms of confidence, security is important, but there’s real competition for places, and as a batsman you’re always aware of that, it drives you on. We need a couple of early wickets tomorrow – the pitch is still pretty good, and once you’re in you can go on.”