Rayner puts Middlesex on course
Sussex 283 and 34 for 1 trail Middlesex 491 (Rogers 98, Morgan 71, Rayner 69) by 174 runs
The pitch was panned by some from south of the river when Surrey were pipped in early season while the victory over Worcestershire only came about after the captains had collaborated following some serious weather interference. But if Middlesex manage to engineer a third championship win from four games at Lord's this season then it will be all down to their own hard work.
Last year's Division Two champions, tipped by many to make a quick return to the second tier, are currently looking up, rather than down, and success here tomorrow would leave them sitting comfortably in the higher reaches of Division One.
A home victory is far from certain and Sussex ought to be able to bat their way out of difficulty, despite surrendering a first innings lead of 208, because there is no real pace or spite in this surface. But Middlesex have given themselves a chance - by doing significant damage with the new ball on the first morning and then, today, battling their way up to within touching distance of 500 despite no batsman reaching three figures.
They had not totalled 400, home or away, before this game but when Toby Roland-Jones, batting at No 10, became the fifth member of the line-up to pass 50, Sussex were looking fairly bedraggled. Worse was to come for the visitors with Steve Finn having Ed Joyce caught in the gully shortly before bad light ended play a dozen overs early.
Finn, who could resume his Test career next week if England's selectors decide to rest a bowler or two for the final Test against West Indies, will be keen to put in a big performance tomorrow. But, as has been shown throughout this game, Middlesex are heavy on individuals ready, willing and able to make important contributions for the team.
The script for today suggested that Chris Rogers and Eoin Morgan would be the batsmen to take charge. But, despite resuming on 93 and 52 respectively, neither made it to the hundred mark. Rogers was perhaps unlucky to lose a leg before decision to Luke Wright while the second new ball did for Morgan, who edged one from Steve Magoffin that was angled across him.
At that stage, Sussex were well in the contest with the scores just about level. But John Simpson was then dropped in the slips by Mike Yardy off James Anyon, who bowled with real fire and precious little luck. That chance was one of five to go begging throughout the innings and Middlesex slowly but surely pulled away.
Simpson made only moderate use of his good fortune - having two of his three stumps uprooted by a full, swinging delivery from Naved Arif. But, almost inevitably, Ollie Rayner made life painful for his old county by scoring 69. Rayner bats well (he made an unbeaten 143 against Notts last week after being forced into night-watchman duties), catches flies in the slips and now has the chance to develop as an off-spinner after being second in line at Sussex behind first Mushtaq Ahmed and then Monty Panesar.
Here, Rayner and Gareth Berg plundered 41 off seven overs to earn Middlesex a fourth bating point. That was slowcoach stuff, though, compared to the 71 runs taken off 51 balls that made sure the innings finished with a real flourish.
Rayner did his bit but it was Roland-Jones who seriously deflated Sussex by biffing 52 off 63 deliveries. The visitors need to pick themselves up tomorrow but the force may be with Middlesex.