Essex seamers Jamie Porter and Graham Napier sparked a Sussex batting collapse to set up an intriguing final day at Hove tomorrow.
The pair shared nine wickets during a marathon spell in the evening session as Sussex slipped from 165 for 2 to 282 for 9 at the close, a lead of 322.
Porter bowled 18 overs unchanged up the slope to finish with 4 for 82 while Napier took 5 for 86, including the key wicket of Chris Nash for 92.
Sussex had looked completely control of the contest having earlier bowled out Essex for 320 to gain a lead of 40 on the first innings.
Nash tightened the host’s grip on the game as he carried on where he left off in the first innings despite losing opening partner Ed Joyce for just ten when he was bowled by Napier.
Sussex shrugged off that setback as Nash and Matt Machan punished some wayward bowling from Matt Dixon and Ravi Bopara to put on 97 in just 105 balls.
It’s been a great three days of cricket between two good sides.Chris Nash
The fun came to an end when Machan was strangled down the leg side by Napier three short of his half century.
Nash went on to reach his 50 from 71 balls, including seven fours, but lost New Zealand international Ross Taylor at the other end for 22 when he was well caught by Tom Westley at second slip off the bowling of Porter.
That sparked a clatter of wickets as Porter and Napier swung the momentum of the game back towards Essex.
Porter trapped Luke Wells and Ben Brown lbw and also bowled Ollie Robinson while Napier ended Nash’s fine knock when he was eight runs short of becoming the first Sussex player to make a century in both innings since Mike Yardy in 2011.
Napier also bowled George Garton for a duck and trapped Danny Briggs lbw before Steve Magoffin and Ajmal Shahzad put on a priceless unbeaten stand of 40 for the final wicket.
Essex had started the day well with Ryan ten Doeschate and Napier stretching their partnership for the eighth wicket to 89 despite Sussex taking the new ball immediately.
Skipper ten Doeschate brought up his half century from 118 balls – with five fours and two sixes – but fell soon afterwards when he was superbly caught by Briggs at first slip off the bowling of Robinson.
Sussex wrapped up the Essex innings pretty swiftly after that as Napier was trapped lbw by Shahzad for 45 and Dixon was pinned in front by Briggs for just one.
Essex’s Jamie Porter said: “It’s been a bit like that this game, they’ve got ahead and we’ve clawed it back a few times.
“I always prefer bowling to fielding, I’m always happier with the ball in my hand so I didn’t want to give it up.
“I found it tough bowling down the hill, I found every now and again I got to the crease too quickly. I felt it suited me trying to attack the hill and run in hard.
“We pride ourselves on being quite a tough side. We’ve been good at getting ourselves back into games. This game has been tough, they’re a good side, and credit to everyone.”
Chris Nash said: “It’s been a great three days of cricket between two good sides. I thought we played well for the first 30 or 40 overs but then they got back into it.
“You’ve got to give credit to Porter and (Graham) Napier as they came out and bowled brilliantly after tea. At 242-9 the game was in the balance but the stand between AJ (Shahzad) and Mags has given us a massive lift.”
“It is very different waking up in the morning knowing you are chasing at least 320 and if we can add a few more then that will put us in an even stronger position.”
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