Sussex stifle Lancashire
Sussex's second half-century opening stand in successive days kept Muttiah Muralitharan at bay long enough to earn a draw against Lancashire at Hove.
The hosts were set 302 to win in a minimum 66 overs, after Lancashire declared their second innings on 206 for eight at lunch.
But Sussex were content to bat out the day - Richard Montgomerie (50) and Chris Nash putting on 93 in 43 overs on the way to the safety of 145 for five by stumps, on a pitch of good pace and even bounce.
Muralitharan (26-13-25-4) belatedly struck twice in three balls - kick-starting the loss of four wickets for 15 runs in four overs.
It was not quite enough and a little too late, though, from the master off-spinner who drew a blank in his first 13 overs following his five wickets on day three.
Last season's champions and runners-up therefore both still await significant momentum for another title push, well off the pace currently set by Yorkshire.
The morning session of a sunny final day was all about Lancashire getting their sums and timing right to keep Sussex interested - and give Muralitharan a worthwhile opportunity.
Steven Croft (65) completed his maiden first-class 50 as he and Tom Smith took their hard-working fourth-wicket stand to 80.
There was much stout defence in Croft's 80-ball half-century, although among his five fours were two memorable shots - a cover-drive off Mushtaq Ahmed in the first over and a resounding cut off Rana Naved-ul-Hasan.
Smith, conspicuously watchful on the third day, was slightly more adventurous in the morning but still needed 132 deliveries before being stumped off Mushtaq six runs short of what would have been a first half-century for him too.
The tall left-handed all-rounder managed just four boundaries, the pick of which was a clip off his legs off Jason Lewry.
It was Croft who made most of the pace as Lancashire ticked over at close to a run a minute.
He had one escape - just after reaching his 50 - when Chris Adams put down a routine head-high chance at first slip off Lewry (3-81).
The drop cost only 15 runs, however, before the same combination accounted for Croft as he edged an attempted run down to third-man.
Dominic Cork fell cheaply, caught at mid-off trying to accelerate the scoring rate - and Mark Chilton, cleared of any breaks following x-rays on his injured elbow, was also looking to up the ante when he holed out at cover off Mushtaq.
Luke Sutton went caught behind shortly afterwards - and after the subsequent loss of Smith, Lancashire decided they had enough runs on the board.
Montgomerie and Nash responded with an entirely unhurried, and mostly featureless partnership - topping 50 for the first wicket as they had on day three, in a Sussex season previously bereft of such a feat.
Murali's sudden rush of wickets did, however, give Lancashire renewed if relatively fleeting hope.
He had Nash pinned lbw on the back foot - and Michael Yardy poked a catch bat-pad to short-leg for a second-ball duck.
After Montgomerie had contributed Sussex's only half-century of the match - from 124 balls - he followed some mid-innings swing to be caught behind off James Anderson.
Then when Adams got one from Murali that bounced enough to take the shoulder of a forward-defensive bat for another caught-behind, thoughts of a 5pm finish had to be shelved.
Murray Goodwin and Andrew Hodd dug in, however, to keep Murali out for the next 12 overs.
They therefore re-established the status quo sufficiently - before Goodwin went bat-pad to the Sri Lankan - to close out a draw after all.
Murali finished with match figures of 9-98.
But Cork reasoned that the fact that even such a world-class bowler found it hard to come by his wickets was proof enough that Lancashire faced a tough task to take 10 in only two sessions of a match which suffered a first-day washout.
"When you've got one of the world's best spinners on there and even he's finding it a struggle to take wickets, you know that it's a a very placid pitch," said the all-rounder.
"There wasn't a lot happening, and they played very conservatively."
Cork was nonetheless satisfied with the visitors' performance.
"All in all it was a good match, to say we lost a day's play," he said."Both teams fought hard, and we can come out with a lot of credit."