Sussex 311 and 148 for 3 lead Warwickshire 394 (Evans 137, Patel 78*, Ambrose 61, Magoffin 5-87) by 65 runs
It is sometimes in their absence that a player’s worth becomes most apparent.
Certainly the absence of Monty Panesar has had a vast impact on Sussex. Not only are they missing him in this game, but his departure has forced them to change their whole first-class strategy. It might even cost them the title.
If that sounds like hyperbole, consider this: if Yorkshire are defeated or even held to a draw by Durham and Sussex win this match, the distance between the clubs will narrow substantially. Then bear in mind that Sussex’s final three games are against Durham, home and away, and Yorkshire, at home, and the potential points swing is vast.
The problem is, without Panesar, Sussex are going to struggle to win games. While his returns in the first months of the season were modest, this dry pitch might have suited him nicely. There is not vast turn, but had Panesar been here, Sussex would have had a far better chance of forcing a result on the final day.
That does not mean Sussex were wrong to part company with Panesar. His behaviour had become aloof and bizarre and that late-night incident outside a nightclub was not the aberration some might like to suggest. At a club that prides itself on its family values, Panesar asking children in search of autographs for money – as he sometimes did – was not acceptable.
So both parties had to move on. But there is no getting away from the fact that Sussex, without their stock bowler and spin threat, look bereft in the field. Their pace attack, led by the excellent Steve Magoffin and the vastly improved Chris Jordan, remains dangerous but without Panesar to plug up an end while they rest, or to exploit the helpful conditions when they arise, Sussex lack a Plan B.
In the long term, Sussex may well look to bring in another spinner. With Magoffin, who here claimed his third five-wicket haul of an excellent season, likely to retain the overseas spot, one option will be to explore the Kolpak market. Robin Peterson is one name that may well be of interest.
In the short term Panesar’s place, in this game at least, has been taken by Will Beer, a locally developed legspinner, with decent control and a clear affinity for the club. Whether he has the pace or the bite to sustain a career at this level is open to debate. On this slow wicket, he has looked painfully slow but perhaps when the nerves subside and the pitch offers more pace, he can threaten more.
He may have a huge opportunity, perhaps even a career-defining opportunity, on the final day. Judging by the enterprising manner in which Michael Yardy, in particular, batted in the third session of the final day, Sussex retain hopes of setting up a declaration. Their seamers will, no doubt, threaten with the new ball. But on a dry, fourth-innings pitch, much may be required of Beer.
Sussex’s current difficulties underline the worth of Jeetan Patel, the New Zealand offspinner, to Warwickshire. At first glance, he may have appeared a modest overseas signing. He had, after all, a first-class bowling average over 38 and few pretensions as a batsman.
But his worth to Warwickshire has been immense. Not only is he almost ever present – he may well be the only Warwickshire player to have participated in every Championship fixture by the end of the season and he is already signed to return in 2014 – but he has claimed 49 Championship wickets and scored four half-centuries. He has now scored 81 more runs in one fewer innings than his top-order colleague, William Porterfield.
Patel’s no nonsense lower-order batting has been a bonus. Here, as so often before, he took the game away from a tired attack with a spirited innings that turned a likely first-innings deficit into a lead of 83 runs.
While Tom Milnes fell two short of an increasingly impressive half-century, Patel added 126 for Warwickshire’s last three wickets, with Maurice Chambers and Recordo Gordon both contributing well by their standards. Indeed, the 45 minutes for which Chambers batted is believed to constitute one of the longest innings of his career. It is remarkable how the prospect of unemployment can motivate.
There was bad news for Warwickshire, though. The ball that dismissed Tim Ambrose on day two, a fine bouncer from Jordan, also broke his right thumb. While the club hope he may be able to bat if required and insist the injury is not season ending, they were obliged to draft 18-year-old Peter McKay behind the stumps as a replacement.
Sussex’s openers almost worked off the deficit on their own but, once Patel struck – removing Chris Nash and Luke Wells before Yardy, responding to Ed Joyce’s sharp call, was run out a super throw from Chambers – Sussex reached stumps with the game, once again, just about in the balance.
An intriguing final day looms. Both sides may fancy their chances of a result but, with that short boundary on one side – just 49 yards – and Sussex looking a little short in terms of their spin threat, it will prove desperately difficult to set a target. The incentive is there, though. If either one of these sides can engineer a victory here, their title aspirations will remain just about viable.