Incredible finish means Sussex keep promotion hopes alive with tight win over Leicestershire
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On a final day that saw Sussex lose their stranglehold, regain it, capitulate, and then storm back, it was ultimately a case of Jaydev Unadkat being the hero with figures of 6-94 to break Leicestershire resistance.
Knocks from Tom Scriven (78) and Ben Cox (58) looked to break the backs of a Sussex attack suffering on a placid pitch and to complete a chase that would go down as the 10th-highest in First-Class history, and third-highest in Championship records.
But Sussex, who would have had a serious inquest in store if they had let their 498-run lead slip, eventually wore down the visitors for 20 points that keep their Division 2 promotion hopes just about alive.
When Unadkat and Ari Karvelas resumed the Sussex bowling efforts in the first ebbs of the morning, there was tension in the seaside air.
Sussex fans, scarred by a poor One-Day Cup campaign and having not witnessed a Championship win since the first round of the 2023 season back in April, held their collective breath through a nervy opening spell.
Unadkat conceded 10 off the first over of the day, while Colin Ackermann and Umar Amin continued to signal their intent by taking loose deliveries to the boundary for the next 45 minutes, treating James Coles and Henry Crocombe with the same disdain.
Captain Cheteshwar Pujara had been adamant that spin would be key on a placid Hove pitch only getting easier to bat on, and soon his words rang true.
With Carson introduced after only 13 overs of the day, a bombardment of slower bowling tied the visiting batsmen up. In just his second over, Carson struck a hammer blow, firstly by forcing Ackermann back in his crease and getting the batsman to chop onto his stumps, out for 136. Just three balls later, Amin followed, also misjudging the spin and succumbing to a plumb LBW decision on 94.
Both dismissals came in the over before a new ball was available, but with the spinners winning, Sussex stuck to their guns for ten more overs.
Those plans were forced to change when Rehan Ahmed launched a lusty counter-attack, and Karvelas and Unadkat were recalled to keep things in check with only 186 more runs required for a Leicestershire win.
Unadkat, still nursing an ankle knock from the previous match at Durham, delivered the next big moment before Lunch, with Ahmed out edging behind to Oli Carter on 29.
If it was on one fit leg that the Indian Test bowler extracted such searing pace, then with the importance of the wicket, Sussex should be eternally thankful for his selfless contribution.
Tom Scriven almost perished to the same express pace, edging between third slip and gully and then underneath James Coles at third slip in consecutive deliveries.
As it was, he picked up priceless boundaries with both shots and at Lunch, Leicestershire were still in the game, needing 153 more runs to win.
The afternoon session then proved dismal for Sussex, as they were powerless to prevent Scriven and Cox from progressing.
With Cox the anchor and Scriven the aggressor, the pair played superbly against an attack that were trying their utmost to extract some life from the Hove surface but had precious little luck.
Unadkat offered the greatest threat, but even he tended to offer one loose ball per over that was carted to the boundary by the ever-grateful Scriven.
The runs required came down steadily throughout an overcast afternoon, with neither Carson, Coles, nor Fynn Hudson-Prentice, able to change the tale of increasing frustration.
As the scoring slowed before tea, Unadkat eventually had Scriven caught behind by Carter in the final over of the session, but just 46 runs remained to be scored at this stage.
Unbelievably, though, the game changed again after the interval. In just the second over of the final session, the irrepressible Unadkat sent shockwaves around Hove by pitching it up at Cox, whose defence was misjudged, spooning the ball up to Tom Alsop at first slip.
The wicket-keeper departed for 58, and just three balls later, Scott Currie followed, edging to Carter having added just two runs.
It was down to Chris Wright – Sussex’s recent signing, who will join up at Hove for 2024 – and an injured Matt Salisbury, batting with skipper Lewis Hill as a runner, to make the 43 more runs required. With Wright – who averaged 33.10 this season with the bat – taking the reins of the partnership, he smashed Hudson-Prentice away for 14 runs in one over.
Unadkat continued tirelessly at the other end, however, and with help from a tight Crocombe over, eventually had the Leicestershire tailenders tied up.
It was left for Sussex’s Indian seamer to bowl Wright in the 133rd over of the innings, when just 16 runs remained to be chased, to wrap up victory.
That sparked wild celebrations among the Sussex players, who have had to suffer so much for days like this over the past three seasons, and the relief from the club and its fans was clear to see.
Speaking after the match, Sussex head coach Paul Farbrace described a day that swung back and forth with typical candour. “For two and a half days, we were excellent and I thought we were the only team going into the late part of Day 3 with a chance to win the game,” said Farbrace.
“[For] teams that don’t know how to win, when they get into those situations, the pressure then becomes a very different one. There were long periods during today when I feel that we didn’t bowl particularly well and that we fielded poorly.
“I think it’s more down to the team not knowing how to win, so to win the game in the way in the context that we did was really important.”
Jaydev Unadkat also spoke of his pride in helping deliver victory for Sussex: “It was a long last couple of sessions for us, but all’s well that ends well,” Unadkat said. “The efforts that everyone put in at some point in the game proved good for us, and we got over the line, which is all that matters.”
He added that, despite the pressure on his ankle, he expected to play in Sussex’s next match at Derbyshire, which will be his last of 2023 alongside captain Pujara.
Neither is available for the final match at home to Gloucestershire, and Unadkat said he was keen to offer even more momentum for the side.
“I think after bowling that ten-over spell, no one’s going to believe me if I say I’m unfit. An outside chance [of promotion] is still a chance, and if everything works our way, two wins could give us promotion.
“This win is a big boost for this young side, and even if we win our next two games and don’t get promotion, we can still say we’ve won from this season.”