Ackermann holds up Sussex in their push for victory over Leicestershire

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Sussex had their momentum stalled by a defiant Colin Ackermann century as they set Leicestershire 499 to win on day three of their LV= Insurance County Championship meeting.

Having resumed on 234-5, Sussex added 110 runs to their overnight total in 30 overs, asking Leicestershire to make a mammoth chase if they wanted to remain ahead in the Division 2 promotion chase.

The visitors were bullish after a soft start, and with Ackermann aided by handy knocks elsewhere, they frustrated the Sussex bowlers to leave plenty more business to be done on day four.

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Under thick blankets of cloud, play got underway with Sussex leading by 388 runs. James Coles and Fynn Hudson-Prentice got about their business dutifully, respecting the early threat of Rehan Ahmed and Scott Currie.

It's turned into quite a battle between Sussex and Leicestershire at Hove | Picture: Eva GilbertIt's turned into quite a battle between Sussex and Leicestershire at Hove | Picture: Eva Gilbert
It's turned into quite a battle between Sussex and Leicestershire at Hove | Picture: Eva Gilbert

Coles reached his half-century with the only ambitious shot - a high and handsome six over long-off, targeting a loose Ahmed delivery – to make his third 50 of the County Championship season to go with two centuries.

It could scarcely have come at a better time for the 19-year-old either, with his place beginning to come under threat after making just 216 runs in his last 12 innings – in the Championship and One-Day Cup – before this match.

That run dated back to a magnificent 180 struck against Derbyshire in July, and while this innings was more attritional, there were enough glimpses of the same ability to justify his role in the side.

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Ultimately, it came to an end for Coles on 63 as he was pinned LBW by a perfect Tom Scriven inswinger, but Jack Carson carried on in his stead.

Carson, who wasn’t required to bowl in the Leicestershire first innings, took to his role with the bat serenely, creaming boundaries to deep cover and third man off his future teammate Chris Wright, and to deep point and deep cover off Scriven.

The Northern Irishman looked invincible up until reaching a run-a-ball 21, at which point Scriven had his revenge and picked up his 30th First-Class wicket of 2023, pinning the Sussex man LBW.

Regardless, the lead had been extended beyond a seemingly unassailable 450, and the only thing keeping Sussex batting was the lack of rain.

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The hosts were content to flog a Leicestershire attack missing first-innings star Matt Salisbury, who was off the field for the entire morning with an unspecified injury, and rubber-stamp their authority.

With a lunchtime declaration looking likely, Sussex upped the scoring rate and lost Hudson-Prentice, who was out on 44 in questionable circumstances.

Edging a ball from Scott Currie, Hudson-Prentice’s shot reached the hands of Colin Ackermann at second slip, although replays were inconclusive as to whether it actually carried.

The push went on regardless, and by Lunch, Karvelas and Henry Crocombe had made it 336-8, with a lead of 490 runs.

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The biggest shock was that the declaration did not come during Lunch, but rather one over after, as eight more runs were added before Ahmed ran out Karvelas on 23.

Leicestershire faced a daunting 499-run target for victory in five sessions, and for Sussex’s buoyant bowlers, a breakthrough did not take long to bear.

Jaydev Unadkat was the man with it, pinning Sol Budinger for a blatant LBW on just seven, while more was to come.

Three overs later, Leicestershire captain Lewis Hill was drawn into a tame edge into the slips off Ari Karvelas on one, with Tom Clark taking the catch.

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Just as in the first innings, it was down to Rishi Patel and Colin Ackermann to rebuild for the visitors.

At first, they did much more than that, keeping Leicestershire in the hunt by smashing three consecutive fours off both Hudson-Prentice and Crocombe, ticking along comfortably above the theoretical requirement of 3.12 runs per over for victory.

If nothing else, the Foxes were batting themselves back into form ahead of their One-Day Cup Final appearance on Saturday at Trent Bridge, with Ackermann certainly carrying a limited-overs spirit into his knock.

His belligerent half-century came off 66 balls, with a risky blow just over Crocombe at mid-off bringing up the landmark.

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Just as things started to stall for Sussex before Tea, they picked up the prized wicket of Patel.

Going for an overambitious cover drive, the Foxes opener found the hands of Cheteshwar Pujara, who held on down low to make it 108-3.

Another crucial stand arrived afterwards, however, as Umar Amin joined Ackermann for a fourth-wicket partnership worth 103 to swing the momentum.

Spinners Carson and Coles were taken around the ground for a succession of boundaries, with international batsmen Ackermann and Amin – of the Netherlands and Pakistan respectively – setting an excellent pace.

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It was a useful lesson in patience for the young Sussex attack, however, at a rare point at which they could afford it, still 300 runs or so in the lead.

Ackermann was only too happy to exact such a lesson, reaching his 10th century in Leicestershire colours off 144 balls when he worked Crocombe away for a leg-side single.

Amin followed by making his first half-century in Championship cricket from 118 balls, and Leicestershire had life at the end of Day 3.

With the visitors trailing by 277 runs at the close, a fascinating final day will see all three results remain possible, but Sussex still the favourites for victory.

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Sussex captain Cheteshwar Pujara reflected on a testing afternoon in the field. “We are fielding well, but in terms of our bowling we need to show a bit more discipline,” said Pujara.

“We spoke about the fact that it won’t be easy [taking wickets] because the pitch is getting better to bat on. I still feel that if we keep bowling in the right areas, keep hitting that off stump again and again, we can take wickets.”

In terms of plans for day four, patience was key.

“I think we’ll try and focus on one hour at a time,” said Pujara. “The first thing is to try and break this partnership, as it’s never easy for the new guy coming in and playing on this pitch.

“If we cross the line, it’ll be a big thing for us. It’s just about us having that belief and getting that maturity as quickly as possible, but I’m very confident that we’ll pull this through tomorrow.”

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