Roland-Jones battles to set up chase
Middlesex 232 and 45 for 1 need another 209 runs to beat Surrey 144 and 341 (Burns 121, Harinath 109, Roland-Jones 5-39)
For a long time, this was a day dominated by two excellent maiden Championship hundreds, from Rory Burns and Arun Harinath. However, a combination of excellent seam bowling from Toby Roland-Jones and injudicious shot selection from Surrey's batsmen ensured Middlesex's victory target was limited to 254.
By the close of an intriguing day they had reached 45 for 1 in pursuit. After Chris Rogers and Sam Robson exploited some loose bowling from Jade Dernbach, with Rogers creaming consecutive boundaries through the covers, Gareth Batty claimed him lbw. While Rogers only appeared to be half-forward, he was visibly angered by the decision - so much so that he may face disciplinary action for dissent. With him dismissed, Surrey may consider themselves slight favourites to secure their first championship win since the first game of the season, especially if their spinners can exploit some uneven bounce, of which there were glimpses.
However, Burns and Harinath will always remember this as the day they registered their maiden championship hundreds. They reached the landmarks batting together, with Harinath's century coming only three balls after Burns' in a five minute spell before lunch.
The experience was extra special because of the close friendship between the two. "It was a very special moment, especially to do it with Arun," Burns said. Harinath added: "We've spent a lot of time together and we room a lot. He's younger than me and I've seen him grow up." He also admitted that, "I would not have liked to have sat on 98 or 99 and it was nice to get it just before lunch". Even the normally relaxed Burns admitted to being "a little bit nervous" before reaching his hundred.
The two centurions combined to add 217 runs for the second wicket, a Surrey record against Middlesex. Both Burns and Harinath displayed steely temperaments and commendable levels of concentration, while steadily accumulating at a strike-rate fractionally over 50. The understanding between them was particularly apparent in their aggressive running, which earned Surrey perhaps 15 runs in quick singles and sharp twos.
However, while Burns and Harinath combined to turn around Surrey's position in the match - and, they will hope, their championship season - their performances had very different personal values. For Harinath, aged 25 but with a previous best Championship score of 63 - against Middlesex at The Oval more than two years ago - the innings could reinvigorate a career that threatened to be stalling. While he has always had obvious qualities of adhesiveness, today he showed a more expansive side with his straight driving and impressive use of his feet against spin.
Burns' century, significant as maiden Championship hundreds invariably are, felt more like a natural progression after a season in which he has illustrated that he has the technique to flourish in Surrey's perennial problem position of opener. There is a running joke at Surrey that every season Chris Adams says an opener is his priority, but he can't ever find one. Well, perhaps he now has. After being bowled leaving his first ball as a Championship opener, against Lancashire at Guildford, Burns has been highly impressive and has already withstood the Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire attacks to make fine 70s. Compact, well organised, and particularly strong steering the ball through the offside or off his hips, there is a tangible sense of class in Burns's batting.
But both centurions will regret their dismissals, which exposed Surrey's flaky middle order to the second new ball just when they appeared to be edging towards a position of impregnability. Harinath fell to a superb catch from Chris Rogers, who reacted smartly after Adam Rossington had spilled his edge; Burns's 121 was ended when he unwisely attempted to play across the line to the tenth ball of the second new ball, only to be beaten by Roland-Jones's seam movement.
Roland-Jones exploited the opening magnificently. As Burns said, "he does enough consistently to get wickets" bowling a relentlessly nagging line and generating late seam movement. Roland-Jones took three wickets in ten balls with the second new ball, and his figures of 5 for 39 from 24 overs were well deserved. Understandably given his height - 6ft 4in - and county, there have been comparisons with Steve Finn. However, a more apt likening would be to his director of cricket, Angus Fraser, with whom he shares an aptitude for long spells and a penchant for parsimony.
Well as Roland-Jones bowled, Surrey's batsmen failed to follow the example set by Harinath and Burns as they collapsed from 230 for 1 to 341 all out. If they do fail to win, they will regard this as a bad missed opportunity, because, besides Roland-Jones and some reasonable support from Steven Crook, Middlesex's bowling seldom threatened, with Tom Smith's left-arm spin bereft of incision. Burns and Harinath certainly wouldn't have envisaged reaching their tons off bowlers as unthreatening as the occasional legspin of Dawid Malan and Joe Denly.
As is too often the case, Surrey's middle order was too ambitious, too early. Rory Hamilton-Brown and Jason Roy followed Burns only in missing full deliveries attempting to work to leg, while Zander de Bruyn, after some powerful drives in his 23 hinted at a return to form, played a reckless shot outside off-stump. Skipper Batty, whose off-stump was castled by a Roland-Jones delivery that jagged back, could at least say he had little culpability in his dismissal. The same could be said of Murali Kartik, trapped lbw to a shooter from Steven Crook - a sight Surrey would probably have enjoyed more than Middlesex.
Sensible batting from Steven Davies, with a sweetly timed backfoot punch for four standing out, ensured Surrey were still able to set Middlesex 254. Though Davies only made 44 before slogging Tim Murtagh to long on, his was an important innings. Especially after Craig Kieswetter's excellent form in the "reserve Ashes", Davies needs to amass some significant innings to retain his place as England's reserve Test wicket-keeper when they tour India.