Mushtaq sustains title challenge
Mushtaq Ahmed was yet again the driving force as Sussex put themselves on the brink of retaining the LV County Championship title.
After Mushtaq took his match haul to 9-157 - 13 Worcestershire wickets falling on day three at Hove - Sussex knew only an improbable run chase by Lancashire at the Brit Oval could stop them bagging the silverware again as long as they complete their own victory on Saturday.
Mushtaq - who went past 450 championship wickets for Sussex when he took his fourth of this match - added to his distinctions by getting Graeme Hick out twice on the same day.
Only Daryl Mitchell escaped his clutches for long in the first innings, carrying his bat for an admirable 70.
Worcestershire could muster only 213 and, following on 319 runs behind, were 190 for five - thanks largely to Moeen Ali (76no) - when bad light brought an early close.
The visitors - bottom of LV Division One and long relegated - did not therefore appear capable of doing a significant favour for Sussex’s fellow title challengers Durham and Lancashire.
Durham’s eight-wicket win at Canterbury put them top of the table - but after Mushtaq followed a first-innings sequence of three wickets for four runs in seven balls with a near identical surge of three for four in 11 second time round, it seemed the northerners’ lead would prove very vulnerable.
Mitchell’s laudable efforts could not save a Worcestershire first innings, which lost its last five wickets for 16 runs in nine overs as Mushtaq and Jason Lewry (3-44) upped the ante.
Worcestershire were doubtless banking on veteran Hick to help them bat out the last two days. But he got no further than the final ball of the fifth full over of a bright morning at his first attempt when he went to pull Mushtaq on length but picked a variation ball which hurried on to have him lbw well back in the crease.
Mitchell and wicket-keeper Steve Davies came through the first hour of their examination by Mushtaq from the sea end - and the seam of Lewry and Chris Liddle from the opposite direction.
But Davies betrayed his hard work when he drove off-spinner Ollie Rayner to cover - and Josh Knappett’s lunge forward at Mushtaq soon resulted in a bat-pad departure into the hands of short-leg.
Gareth Batty hinted at worthwhile assistance for Mitchell either side of lunch only to become yet another bat-pad victim for Mushtaq - kick-starting his team’s terminal collapse.
After Kabir Ali had gone back to be lbw to the wrist-spinner, Worcestershire’s last three batsmen could not muster a run between them - cleaned up by Mushtaq and Lewry’s old-ball swing to leave Mitchell stranded after keeping out 259 balls and batting through 88 overs.
He returned for a reprise 10 minutes later - and by the second over, was deserted once again by his opening partner Stephen Moore who aimed a cut at Robin Martin-Jenkins and was bowled off-stump when the ball jagged back.
Moeen emerged as a sturdier ally, and Worcestershire looked all set to come through unscathed up to tea until Mitchell finally suffered a lapse of concentration and was bowled shouldering arms at Rayner.
Hick counter-attacked Mushtaq in a short spell from the Cromwell Road end - but when the Pakistani switched back to plan A he soon had the former England batsman lbw sweeping.
Davies then propped a catch to short-leg for a fourth-ball duck, and Knappett’s chosen technique of stretching forward to Mushtaq backfired for the second time when he missed on the defence and lifted his back leg.
Wicket-keeper Andrew Hodd fluffed an opportunity for a second stumping soon afterwards - Moeen surviving on 66 when he missed with a charge at Mushtaq.
With the young left-hander still unbeaten in an unbroken stand of 73 with Gareth Batty at stumps, the cost of Hodd’s mistake remained an imponderable.