Mushtaq turns the screw
Mushtaq Ahmed hauled Sussex to the brink of a second championship title in four years as Nottinghamshire’s resistance folded on day two at Trent Bridge.
The Pakistani took his tally for the season to 97 wickets during Notts’ 165 all out and their second attempt of 50 for four following on, in reply to 560 for five declared.
It all meant that, irrespective of second-placed Lancashire’s good progress against Hampshire at the Rose Bowl in this final round of matches, Liverpool Victoria County Championship table-toppers Sussex need only to close out the win here to stay ahead.
Given Notts’ compliance on the way to a 395-run first-innings deficit on a true pitch, the only feasible bar to Sussex bagging the silverware again is an uncertain weather forecast over the next two days.
Should they clinch the title, Mushtaq - who has match figures of 8-66 so far - will rightly be acknowledged as the most important contributor.
As in Sussex’s seven victories so far this summer, however, he has had his helpers in Nottingham.
Chief among them is Robin Martin-Jenkins, who followed up the unbeaten 84 he plundered this morning with two wickets to spark the collapse in which he and Mushtaq saw off four Notts batsmen for the addition of one run.
Such was the frailty of the champions, whose last seven first-innings wickets went down for 23 in under 15 overs, they fell well short of the one batting point they needed to be sure of avoiding relegation.
They could still hope for help elsewhere on that score, but for Sussex it became increasingly evident they were masters of their own destiny.
Where Sussex had built a succession of century stands on their way to a declaration before lunch, Notts’ top order kept getting partnerships started only to see them broken before worthwhile fruition.
Darren Bicknell was first to go, lbw driving at James Kirtley, and David Alleyne was bowled on the back foot by Mushtaq with one that hurried on.
Will Smith undid all his hard work when he chased and edged a wide one from Jason Lewry - before that unexpected burst of late-afternoon wickets.
Martin-Jenkins broke a 59-run alliance between Samit Patel and David Hussey when the former pushed a ball which stopped on him for a tumbling catch by Mike Yardy at cover.
Mushtaq then had Mark Ealham making the same sort of mistake which did for Alleyne - aiming an expansive cut to a googly this time - and captain Stephen Fleming went for a third-ball duck to the leg-spinner, unluckily caught at slip after gloving an attempted sweep.
When Martin-Jenkins had Hussey edging to slip for good measure, it was suddenly beginning to seem a matter of when not if Sussex would win their title.
That impression did not alter after tea as Mushtaq, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Lewry took a wicket each to finish off the tail.
Mushtaq was in the attack by the sixth over of Notts’ second innings and duly claimed four wickets in 19 balls for six runs, waiting until his sixth delivery to strike for the first time when Smith was lbw playing back to another googly.
Mushtaq then had Alleyne for the second time in the day, pushing a bat-pad catch to silly-point, and in his third over he doubled up on Fleming too - caught at slip from the edge of a forward-defensive blade.
Bicknell’s 20-year career ended on an unfortunate note when he was adjudged caught off bat and pad in his final innings just before bad light brought a surprisingly early close.
Sussex had been able to declare before lunch on the back of the fifth and sixth half-centuries of their innings, from Martin-Jenkins and Matt Prior (77no).
Prior moved at a good tempo to his half-century but his usual fluency was eclipsed by Martin-Jenkins, who cashed in best on a glorious morning with 10 fours in a near run-a-ball fifty.
Martin-Jenkins survived a tough caught-behind chance off AJ Harris on 55 to dominate an unbroken 140-run partnership - Sussex’s fourth century-plus stand - which ended only when Chris Adams decided enough runs were on the board.
Martin-Jenkins was therefore deprived of the opportunity to make a hundred before lunch, and opener Carl Hopkinson - run-out for a duck first thing yesterday - was to be the only Sussex batsman not to reach 50.