Sussex beaten by Essex - but only after pushing county champions to the limit
Essex are on course to reach the final of the Bob Willis Trophy after a thrilling three-wicket win over Sussex at Hove left them with the only 100% record in the competition.
Simon Harmer set up victory by claiming his 20th five-wicket haul for the county champions as Sussex were bowled out for 141 in their second innings, leaving Essex with a target of 196 in 52 overs.
George Garton revived home hopes with four wickets, including Alastair Cook for the second time in the match, and when Mitch Claydon took two wickets in an over they were seven down needing 24 to win. But Paul Walter and Aaron Beard held their nerve, Beard hitting the winning boundary with 6.1 overs to spare.
Ben Brown, Sussex captain, said: "We're really flat because we lost and it's difficult to take when you get so close to winning but after losing by an innings to Kent last week I was really proud of the performance we put in.
"We've got a young team, so to go toe to toe with the county champions over four days speaks volume for the way we've reacted to last week. It was always a tough challenge taking on the county champions but it's also a great experience for our youngsters to play against guys like Alastair Cook and Simon Harmer and although we're disappointed not to get over the line there have been a lot of positives for us."
With matches against Hampshire at Arundel, starting on Saturday, and Middlesex at Chelmsford to come Essex will fancy their chances of reaching the final at Lord’s next month after making it three wins out of three.
Cook and Nick Browne had launched the chase with a confident stand of 42 in nine overs but Garton, who took five wickets in the first innings, dragged Sussex back into contention by removing both in five balls.
With his fifth delivery the left-armer had Cook (26) well caught low down at slip driving at an out-swinger before Browne unwisely tried to turn a yorker-length ball to leg and was lbw for 19.
Dan Lawrence and skipper Tom Westley settled things down either side of tea with a stand of 69 in 16 overs but Westley (24) lost his off stump to give Stuart Meaker, Sussex’s winter signing from Surrey, his first wicket in red-ball cricket since July 2018.
Lawrence looked like bringing Essex home when he brought up only the second half-century of the match but departed for 60 off 76 balls after gloving a lifter to give Garton his ninth wicket of the match. Claydon returned to have Adam Wheater caught behind and Harmer taken at second slip but there were no more twists.
Earlier, Sussex struggled to make headway against the Harmer's accuracy and a seam attack admirably led by Jamie Porter, whose three wickets gave him eight in the match.
Porter broke through in the sixth over of the day when Salt (23), driving loosely, got a thin edge to wicketkeeper Wheater. Sussex scored just 15 runs in the first 11 overs of the day and there was little respite when Harmer came into the attack.
Tom Clark (10) was leg before only half forward and Ben Brown (5) beaten in the flight coming down the pitch. Harmer struck again with the last ball before lunch when Garton (1) padded up.
The South African off-spinner completed his five-for by removing Meaker (4) and the dangerous Delray Rawlins, the only Sussex batsmen who looked comfortable against him. Rawlins made 40 off 42 balls and deposited Harmer for successive sixes over mid-wicket before missing a sweep shot.
The left-hander had put together a valuable stand of 40 for the sixth wicket which ended when Aaron Thomason (13) clipped Matt Quinn’s slower ball to square leg. Porter wrapped up the innings to finish with three for 28 when he plucked out Henry Crocombe’s off stump.