Prior controversy overshadows Middlesex's day
Sussex 147 for 7 (Rayner 3-37) trail Middlesex 499 for 8 dec (Rogers 184, Dexter 104, Robson 54, Simpson 50) by 352 runs
Sussex's unbeaten start to the County Championship looks to be coming to an end in rather bitter fashion. After toiling on an unresponsive pitch, they were greeted with some indifferent bounce and the occasional delivery sticking in the surface, but their biggest gripe is the manner in which their returning England star Matt Prior was sent on his way for 10.
Having defended a ball from Ollie Rayner, Prior watched on as Sam Robson - fielding at silly point - sprawled across the pitch to take the catch. There seemed a slight hesitation before he managed to exert full control over the ball, at which point a minor appeal went up. After some deliberation between Robson and Rayner, the bowler turned to put the question to Martin Saggers. "Out" was the reply.
A shocked Prior stood his ground, motionless for a second, before pointing with his bat to just in front of where the catch was taken - clearly of the belief that it had been grounded. Robson, as a rebuttal, re-assumed his position on the floor, ball in hand. As the Middlesex players came together, Alex Wharf made his way in from square leg and seemed to confirm that a legitimate catch was taken.
Eventually, Prior was on his way, looking back at the huddle of fielders at the scene of the "crime" with disdain.
"Things like that are sad for the game," said Sussex coach Mark Robinson, who refused to be drawn on commenting further on the incident. He did however rule out any discussion with Prior for his reaction, though it seems unlikely that the ECB will take the same stance.
Rayner, who finished the day with figures of 3 for 37, was happy with the manner in which Middlesex acted, suggesting that perhaps the profile of the player and the importance of the match enhanced the gravity of the situation.
"We didn't go mad" he said. "We asked the fielder and then the umpire. Sam is a very honest guy and he wouldn't try and pull the wool over anyone's eyes. It's a shame with the game going where it is that the fielder's word is not always taken.
"I think had it not been Matt Prior - an England player - coming back in a big clash at the top of the table and getting out in such a big moment, then I don't think it would be as big a deal."
It is a shame that Rayner was involved in the unsavoury incident as it detracts from what could be a real turning-point performance from the tall offspinner, who bowled exceptionally well with James Harris in the evening session as four key Sussex wickets fell for just 29 runs.
So often nothing more than a containing spinner, he took time and pride in each over, especially against Prior where he was backed by Chris Rogers with men around the bat and a pressing in-field. A former Sussex man, who grew up in the Mushtaq Ahmed era - who he noted "wasn't shy of an appeal" - he bounded with just as much glee as the Hove and Pakistan legend when he had Ed Joyce stumped; the ball holding its line as the Sussex skipper overbalanced when going forward.
Rogers and Neil Dexter started the day with some urgency. Some cuts and drives square of the wicket later, Middlesex had reached their third batting point, after which point Rogers skewed a shot off the bowling of Magoffin in the air, which Yardy did well to run back from mid-off and catch over his shoulder. It was the same combination that could have dismissed the Middlesex captain 181 runs earlier.
Dexter then motored on with the help of John Simpson to take the score past 400. The success of Rogers and Robson at the top of the order meant very little has been asked of Middlesex's middle order, but Dexter has looked in good touch when called upon, with his previous highest score of the season (82) setting up a win over Somerset. He eventually brought up a well crafted first Championship hundred of the campaign.
Sussex's reply got off to a subdued start as had Middlesex's. However when a chance did arrive, it was taken; Tim Murtagh finding the outside edge of Chris Nash's bat and Robson taking the catch at third slip. Wells then went to a misjudged pull that he could only spoon in the air to the man rushing in from midwicket, before Rayner and James Harris did their bit.
It leaves Sussex 202 runs behind the follow-on target, with Luke Wright and Will Beer still at the crease. For Middlesex, they have an opportunity to make an example out one of the form teams in the league and take themselves back to the top of the table