Khan tears through Middlesex
Sussex 106 for 3 (Joyce 49*) trail Middlesex 170 (Khan 5-25) by 64 runs
Perhaps they've left their charge up the table just a little too late. But in the space of five-and-a-bit matches, Sussex have transformed themselves from relegation worriers into title dreamers.
The ten-wicket loss to Middlesex at Lord's in early June had the champions of 2003, '06 and '07 looking anxiously over their shoulders towards the drop zone. Since then, though, they have beaten Surrey, Durham and Worcestershire, drawn with long-time top two Warwickshire and Notts and are now fancied to take over second place by claiming another victory here.
Steve Magoffin, James Anyon and Monty Panesar have been the mainstays of their attack for most of this campaign. Today, though, it was Amjad Khan who ripped through Middlesex's middle order on his way to season's best figures of 5 for 25 from 14 overs.
Khan, who played his only Test in 2009, has fallen a long way down the pecking order when it comes to England fast bowling candidates and throughout the middle part of this campaign he was not able to force his way into Sussex's four-day side. On Friday, though, the 31-year-old proved almost unstoppable on an evenly grassed pitch which, thanks to some cracking, produced variable bounce. In the space of eight balls, he removed Dawid Malan, Sam Robson and Neil Dexter to leave Middlesex in serious difficulty at 62 for 5.
Unlike Sussex's catching, which was splendid for the most part, some of the opposition batting left a fair bit to be desired. But Khan deserved bags of credit for hitting the right spot, more often than not, and making the opposition play.
He completed his first five-for since starting the season, when he claimed a handful against Surrey, by locating the outside edge twice more, thereby removing Ollie Rayner and Gareth Berg. At that stage, all eight Middlesex wickets had fallen to catches behind the wicket - from keeper through to gully - and a perfect ten seemed probable, rather than possible.
Instead, Panesar ended the neatness by winning a leg-before decision against Toby Roland-Jones and, thereafter, Middlesex were grateful to a bright and breezy 34 from No. 10 Tim Murtagh to take them past 150. His knock included one particularly pleasing sweep against Panesar, which sent the ball soaring for six.
When Sussex's top order batsmen found life only a little easier against the new ball it looked as though Murtagh's innings might be the day's top score. But Ed Joyce was not quite finished when it came to making life difficult for his former employers.
The ex-Middlesex batsman has only recently taken over the Championship captaincy at Sussex. He began his reign by leading the county to an innings victory against Worcestershire last week and here, having taken a punt by inserting the opposition, he underpinned the bowlers' good work with a diligent, unbeaten innings of 49.
The Irishman needed 116 balls to make one short of 50 but that mattered not a jot. Having flashed an early drive through a startled slip cordon, he put his nose to the grindstone while losing the company of Chris Nash, Luke Wells and Murray Goodwin. At 64 for 3, Sussex needed a partnership. They were given one by Joyce and Mike Yardy, the man who handed over the captaincy in order to concentrate on his own game, and the pair will hope to add significantly to a 42-run alliance on Saturday.