Burden-free Yardy gives Sussex edge
Middlesex 170 (Khan 5-25) and 92 for 2 trail Sussex 287 (Yardy 89, Roland-Jones 6-66) by 25 runs
Change your captain, change your luck? Well, to be fair, things were going quite nicely for Sussex before Mike Yardy decided to hand the Championship reins to Ed Joyce a fortnight ago but both men seem to have benefitted significantly from the switch.
Joyce, having scored 107 during last week's win against Worcestershire, gave his team a sound base in this match by making 68 at the top of the order. And Yardy, who announced that he wished to concentrate on his own game, ended an indifferent run of four-day form with an excellent innings of 89.
Yardy had passed 50 on only a couple of occasions in Championship cricket since hitting 110 against Lancashire back in April but here he looked all set for three figures - and would have deserved them on a still-tricky pitch - until miscuing a pull into the hands of long leg.
Although the former England player's unexpected departure, seventh out with the total 238, put something of a dent in Sussex's plans to post a truly commanding total, they were still able to reach 287 - despite a career-best 6 for 66 from Toby Roland-Jones. That gave the hosts a first-innings lead of 117, an advantage which ought to prove decisive as they seek to take over second place in the table behind title favourites Warwickshire.
There is nothing particularly pretty about Yardy's batting style, at least not when he sets up with his splayed feet stance. But the left-hander can be mighty effective, and was so on Saturday as he punished Middlesex whenever they fed his strong leg-side play or offered him a bit too much width outside off stump.
No batsman has been able to operate with complete freedom (although Chris Rogers tried to late on when he gave Middlesex a flying start) because the odd ball continued to lift quite alarmingly from a good length. Ollie Rayner suffered most, in terms of pain, on Friday when hit on the left hand by a delivery from James Anyon. Today it was Joyce who had to call for the magic spray after one from Roland-Jones reared to locate the opener's rib cage.
Another snorter from Roland-Jones, soon after, did Joyce no physical damage but brought about his downfall, leaping to hit a glove and present keeper John Simpson with a simple, lobbed catch. That breakthrough ended a stand of 78 for the fourth wicket, the highest partnership of the match so far, and came at a time when Middlesex were still hopeful of limiting the first innings damage to around 50.
Unfortunately for the visitors, they cannot quite match Sussex for pace and bounce. But in Roland-Jones they possessed a constant threat and it was only fitting that the 24-year-old, who is already on England's radar, returned the county's best bowling analysis of the season.
The wicket of Yardy, who had concentrated hard for four and half hours, was a bit of a gift. But the youngster worked hard for his other successes, and had to contend with the likes of Steve Magoffin and Anyon scoring valuable runs down the order for the second consecutive match.
When Middlesex set about trying to clear the arrears, Rogers looked like a man in a hurry but although his 48 came from only 53 balls he was living dangerously and it came as no great surprise when Monty Panesar had him caught behind. Joe Denly soon played on, to Magoffin, and the same bowler then saw nightwatchman Roland-Jones dropped by Chris Nash at short leg just before the close.
It is not game over, by any means, with Middlesex only 25 behind and eight wickets in hand. But it is certainly game on for Sussex as they try to continue their impressive rise up the table.