Sussex on the brink of putting themselves back in the promotion race
Sussex look set to propel themselves right back into the Specsavers County Championship Second Division promotion race after dominating the third day of the match against Gloucestershire at Bristol.
On the brink of a second successive victory, Sussex posted 370 to establish a first-innings lead of 170 and then reduced their opponents to 197-6 by the close, Ollie Robinson and David Wiese claiming two wickets apiece.
Gloucestershire lead by just 27 runs with four second-innings wickets in hand, and much will depend on the seventh-wicket pair of Ryan Higgins and Jack Taylor, who will resume in the morning on 24 and 10 not out respectively.
But it will require something special for the home side to avoid defeat and retain second place in the table with two games to play.
Only Chris Dent, who top-scored with 72, summoned meaningful second-innings resistance for Gloucestershire, whose top-order batting was undermined by a series of soft dismissals, James Bracey, Gareth Roderick and Miles Hammond all falling to ill-advised forcing shots.
Having completed a valuable half century in the morning, ubiquitous all-rounder Wiese claimed two wickets in as many overs to reduce the home side to 64-2. Bracey was caught behind for 18 in the act of attempting a back-foot force, while Roderick played a casual bottom-handed flick off his legs straight to deep backward square leg and departed for eight.
Hammond also succumbed in meek fashion for 10, taking on spinner Delray Rawlins and top-edging a catch to slip. And worse followed when Dent, who became only the fifth player to pass 1,000 runs across both divisions this season, followed a leg-side delivery from George Garton and was caught at the wicket with the score on 128.
At least Gloucestershire's captain demonstrated a degree of application commensurate with the situation, batting for just shy of two-and-a-half hours and defying Sussex for 103 balls.
Sensing an opportunity to claim victory inside the distance, Sussex wasted an opportunity in the first over after tea, Chris Jordan putting down a sharp chance at slip off Rawlins to hand Ben Charlesworth a life on two. But they did make further in-roads when Robinson, returning at the Bristol Pavilion End, induced Smith to chip low to short mid-wicket for 23.
Gloucestershire had established parity by the time Charlesworth finally succumbed, the teenager falling lbw to Robinson, having resisted for 75 minutes, facing 60 balls and scoring 15 runs.
In survival mode, Higgins and Taylor managed to hold out until bad light forced the players off the field at 5.40pm with 10 overs unused.
Resuming on 313-7 following a delayed start in which 16 overs were lost to rain, Sussex added a further 57 runs in 12 overs during the morning session to post 370 and establish a commanding first-innings lead. Wiese raised an enterprising 67 from 97 balls, accrued 9 fours and a six and dominated a progressive stand of 92 in 20 overs with Will Beer for the eighth wicket.
Wiese's innings was finally terminated when he cut a Higgins long-hop and Charlesworth took a brilliant diving catch at point. Gloucestershire's standout bowler, David Payne then bowled Beer for 40 to finish with figures of 4-59 from 29 overs, while Higgins accounted for Robinson to wrap-up the innings shortly before lunch.
In contrast, new overseas signing Shannon Gabriel conceded 120 from 20 overs, while extras accounted for a further 60 runs.
Sussex all-rounder David Wiese said: "If you'd have offered us this position at the start of the day, we would definitely have taken it. The pitch has been pretty unresponsive to any kind of bowling and, to get them six down at the close, was a good outcome.
"The bowlers have worked really hard and we know it won't be easy tomorrow. They still have two quality players out there and we cannot be getting ahead of ourselves. We need to come back in the morning, continue to work hard and finish the job off.
"It will help that a new ball is due quite soon and we have to put that to good use. If we can finish the job and get the win, then we'll put ourselves in a good position to challenge for a promotion spot.. There are two games to play after this and we're coming into a bit of form at just the right time."