Rogers and Malan disrupt Warwickshire
Middlesex 287 and 351 for 5 (Malan 138*, Rogers 109) lead Warwickshire 333 (Westwood 120) by 305 runs
Should Warwickshire manage to emerge from this match with their sixth win of the season, they will deserve to be County Champions. With a deficit of 305 to take into the final day, to which Middlesex will hope to add at least 50 with five wickets in hand, they face a tall task.
The bedrock for Middlesex's total came in the form of a stand of 203 between Chris Rogers and Dawid Malan, both of whom made accomplished centuries. Well though the two left-handers batted, however, Warwickshire know they could have bowled better on a pitch offering good bounce and carry.
There were good spells, notably by Chris Wright with the new ball and by Boyd Rankin just after tea, but not enough of them. It will have been particularly disappointing to them that Ian Blackwell's left-arm spin did not account for a single wicket in 26 overs.
Rogers made 109 and Malan is 138 not out and barely offered a sniff of a chance during the 46 overs or so that they were together. Warwickshire will surrender the Division One lead if they fail to win and Sussex complete a victory at Taunton, which seems likely, although the advantage of a game in hand will maintain Warwickshire's position as favourites. Sussex, though, would have won six times to their five.
Middlesex were seen as contenders themselves at one time, although their realistic target has been to finish in the safe ground in the middle of the table. In that respect, the experience brought by Rogers, the 34-year-old Australian who joined them from Derbyshire two years ago, has been vital.
Rogers is with his fourth first-class county. His latest century is his third of the season and 55th overall, of which 30 have been scored in England and eight for Middlesex. He is close to 1,000 runs during the current season and his career aggregate now exceeds 18,000, which are impressive statistics for a batsman whose colour blindness has been said at times to impair his ability to pick out the red ball if the backdrop is not in clear contrast.
Although he might have been out on 33 when an uppercut off Rankin cleared Keith Barker on the third-man boundary, he played impressively well. But then so too did Malan, who survived a hostile spell from Rankin just after tea and needs only another six to pass his career best of 143.
Twice Warwickshire thought they might take the upper hand. After they had been bowled out for 333, which gave them a lead of 46, a penetrative spell with the new ball from Wright had Middlesex quickly in trouble, bringing wickets in his first and third overs. He drew Sam Robson to play at a ball that left him outside off stump and was rewarded when Tim Ambrose took the catch, and struck again when Joe Denly flashed at a wider delivery and was caught superbly by Rikki Clarke, whose leap at second slip to pluck the ball out of the air seemed unaffected by the abdominal strain that is preventing him from bowling.
But then Rogers and Malan bedded in and their progress was serenely without alarm, for the most part until Rankin, returning after tea for third spell, at last began to find the right length. The Irish quick bowler finished off Rogers with his third ball, which was cut to slip, and followed up two overs later when Neil Dexter, the first innings centurion, took liberties with a ball outside off stump and fell victim to William Porterfield's excellent reactions at gully.
Rankin then tempted Adam Rossington to pull with two fielders placed in anticipation of the shot and was rewarded with a top edge that Darren Maddy did well to get under.
At this point, Middlesex's lead was 206, which did not threaten quite such a daunting run chase. However, Rankin's third success was the last of the batch in a contest that has generally seen wickets taken in clusters. Malan, who made his name initially as an aggressive one-day batsman but is maturing into a sound middle-order player in the four-day game, maintained his concentration after completing his second century of the season off 158 balls and found another useful ally in Gareth Berg.
Berg is unbeaten on 53 in a partnership so far worth 99. The new ball is due but Middlesex will hope to add another 50 to their total at least on the fourth morning and probably bat Warwickshire out of the game.