Durham are in a strong position to claim their second County Championship win of the season after Alex Lees’ century and Chris Rushworth’s three wickets underlined their dominance against Sussex.
After Lees made 143 and Gareth Harte 77, Durham declared their second innings on 284 for 3 and set Sussex 437 to win in a minimum of 126 overs.
It would be the second-highest successful fourth innings chase in Sussex’s history, but the odds on them achieving it lengthened when veteran Rushworth nipped out Luke Wells and Harry Finch for ducks with the new ball.
But from 4 for 2, Will Beer (36) and Stiaan van Zyl took Sussex to 59 before Rushworth returned to claim a third wicket when he had Beer leg before in the penultimate over of the day. Sussex closed on 59 for 3 with van Zyl 17 not out and Durham will fancy their chances of winning at Hove for the first time since 2011.
Sussex head coach Jason Gillespie said: It's been a tough day for us but I'm ever the optimist and we're still in there fighting and we have to look to be positive tomorrow. We need a lot of runs and I'm a realist and know it's going to be a tough challenge. We need the players to step up, take on the challenge and get the job done for the team."
Earlier, Lees lodged his second century in three innings as he and Harte added 220 for the second wicket after Brydon Carse had removed Delray Rawlins for 56 with the second ball of the day to end Sussex’s first innings on 232.
Despite a lead of 152 Durham did not enforce the follow-on and after skipper Cameron Bancroft (5) fell during Ollie Robinson’s new-ball spell Lees and Harte set about strengthening Durham’s position on an increasingly benign surface.
Sussex employed seven bowlers including three spinners but with their main threat Robinson struggling to overcome a virus they made little headway as the stand grew. Lees reached the 14th hundred of his career with his 11th boundary, scored off Rawlins, and became only the third Durham batsman after Wayne Larkins and Michael Di Venuto to score a second-innings hundred after making a duck in the first.
The partnership was broken by Luke Wells when Harte (77) was caught on the drive at short cover by Rawlins, but Lees pressed on and had faced 212 balls and hit 14 fours and two sixes when he was caught behind after tea cutting Beer’s googly. It is the first time for six years that three Durham batsmen have scored hundreds in the same match.
The declaration came shortly afterwards and Sussex, who lost their first three wickets for two runs in the first innings, were soon in deep trouble again.
Rushworth claimed Wells with the fifth ball although the bowler had turned and was heading back to his mark when umpire Ben Debenham upheld an appeal from the fielders behind the wicket for a catch at third slip.
But there was no doubt when Rushworth struck again in his third over as he held Finch’s mis-timed drive in his follow through to claim his 450th first-class wicket for Durham.