Sam Northeast made a magnificent unbeaten 173 to put Kent in a position to force their second win of the season in the Specsavers Championship.
The Kent captain scored the 17th hundred of his first-class career while Sean Dickson and Darren Stevens both passed 50 for the second time in the match as Kent piled up 413 for 5 on the third day at Hove, a lead of 426.
Northeast and Stevens plundered 78 run in nine overs after tea on a pitch which has become easier to bat on but with 24 overs left and a declaration imminent they were forced off because of bad light and did not return.
It means Sussex will have to bat through the final day to avoid defeat in their opening game and their bowlers will be glad of the opportunity to put their feet up after a chastening day.
Northeast continued the consistent form he has had since the start of last season. He has now scored has scored 1,628 first-class runs at an average of 81.4 in 27 innings including six centuries.
Only three wickets fell as a Sussex attack without Vernon Philander, who is suffering from a groin injury, found it hard to contain a rampant Northeast, particularly when he and Stevens came together to add 161 in 26.4 punishing overs.
None of the Sussex bowlers were spared and there was an alarming moment when South African David Wiese clattered into and over a boundary board before colliding with the rain covers as he tried to intercept Stevens’ uppercut on the third man boundary. Fortunately, he was not hurt and bowled the next over.
Northeast had soon got into his stride at the start of the day, punching a couple of straight drives back down the ground to get into the groove. He lost night-watchman James Tredwell, who was bowled by Wiese’s first delivery of the day, but either side of lunch he and Dickson, despite the discomfort of a hamstring injury, added 123 in 32 overs with Dickson making 89 in just under four hours to add to his first-innings 66 before Shahzad pinned him with the only ball all day that misbehaved.
With Philander off the field Luke Wright had to turn to his part-time bowlers and left-arm spinner Delray Rawlins picked up his first Championship wicket when Will Gidman holed out to deep square leg, but that brought Stevens in and together with Northeast, who played with eye-catching fluency all day, they took the game further away from Sussex.
Northeast took 59 balls over his 50 and needed a further 64 to reach his second hundred against Sussex, having taken 190 off their attack at Tunbridge Wells last season but once to three figures he and Stevens launched a calculated attack.
At one stage after tea Sussex skipper Luke Wright employed all his fielders apart from wicketkeeper Ben Brown on the boundary but the second new ball disappeared to all parts. Northeast hooked Jofra Archer for six then cleared the ropes twice off successive deliveries from Wiese and once off Shahzad.
He also struck 20 boundaries and was closing in on a maiden double hundred when the light worsened enough for umpires Michael Burns and Russell Evans to take the teams off. Stevens had made 71 from 89 balls with eight fours and two sixes.
At the close of the day’s play, Kent captain Sam Northeast felt his side can now push for the win on Monday:
“We are in pole position going into tomorrow and it will be interesting to see if the wicket does deteriorate because it felt today’s batting conditions were the best of the match.”
“The new ball will be crucial. If we can start well and keep grinding out the wickets we can hopefully get another win.”
“We are in a good position because we have the luxury of having attacking fields with the runs we have on the board.”
“My preparation has been a bit weird, with playing a lot of white-ball cricket in Dubai in the North v South series. I then had a bit of a hamstring injury so I’ve come into the season a bit undercooked in terms of red-ball cricket. So, to get the score I’ve got and feel good at the crease feels very satisfying.”
“They are a bowler down (Vernon Philander) and they were tired at the end so Darren Stevens and I thought we’d take advantage and push the game forward.”
Meanwhile, Ajmal Shahzad admitted it had been a hard day in the field for Sussex:
“It’s been tough for us in their second innings being a bowler light. I thought we stuck to our task well but the wicket seemed to get better as the day wore on and, to be fair, Sam Northeast played a captain’s innings and showed what a good batsman he is.”
“They scored a lot of runs against the new ball which can sometimes happen especially on a good wicket like that.
The wicket is still very good and we’ll need to bat well tomorrow but there’s no reason why we can’t do that.”