Rayner finally comes to the fore
Sussex 222 (Rayner 5-63) and 228 for 4 (Joyce 75*) trail Middlesex 499 for 8 dec. by 49 runs
There is a faint, faint possibility that Middlesex might not win this game and for that they have only themselves to blame. Some lax bowling and Tim Murtagh's drop of Luke Wright from a skied sweep shot, will have Sussex returning on the final day, of a match they have yet to have any control of, just 48 runs behind with six wickets remaining.
From here, Sussex's only real hope is to set a difficult chase, but Middlesex need only to look at the scorecard at their domination over the last three days to dissipate any doubt.
Victory looked like it could even come on day three as the visitors made a pig's ear of their follow on - a suicidal run out and tame hook shot doing for Chris Nash and Michael Yardy. It all seemed rather wasteful, especially after Luke Wright and Will Beer did their best to garner as many runs as possible this morning, despite the inevitability of the follow-on.
The Sussex first innings was eventually finished off thanks to a wicket for Neil Dexter and two for Ollie Rayner, who took his maiden five-wicket haul for Middlesex in the Championship - a first since August 2008 when he helped his opponents to a 10-wicket win over Hampshire at Arundel.
Dropped to the second XI for two games for, essentially, not spinning the ball, Rayner came back into the first team after what he described as "time off" to rediscover his game. As a child, he was a big turner of the ball before the development of his batting saw him lose his attacking instincts and morph into a lower middle-order batsman-cum-support bowler.
A move to Middlesex, made permanent in October 2011 after an extended loan spell from Sussex, saw a continuation of this in a seam-heavy attack, leading him to, as he put it, "bowl in his sleep". From his words last night and his actions this morning, there is every indication he wants to move his cricket on to the next level. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who would not wish Rayner well; an affable character who takes it upon himself to act the fool in the dressing room in the name of team spirit.
Matt Prior and Sam Robson were unavailable for comment on Prior's controversial dismissal on the second day, but Rayner obliged. "It's not often people want to speak to me," he gleamed. "I'll take it!" He went as far as to hope Prior was not annoyed at him for appealing. Even modesty and self-consciousness can be six-foot five and blonde.
It's unclear whether he offered an apology of sorts when Prior came to the crease after the tea interval, but the pair locked horns once again as Prior and Ed Joyce set about drastically eating into Middlesex's lead with some dashing shots. Three balls into their reunion and Prior had already taken Rayner for 10 runs - a slapped sweep shot for four, a paddle around the corner for two, before he came down the pitch and hit Rayner over midwicket's head for another boundary.
Prior's cameo didn't last much longer, as he sat back and cross-batted a good length ball from James Harris to a diving Murtagh at mid-on. As he walked off, the congregation in the Mound Stand asked England's Test wicketkeeper if he was happy with that decision. Prior, to his credit, acknowledged the home fans with good grace and his bat, as the cat calls turned to polite applause.
But Wright joined the fray and kept the scoring rate going all the way through to stumps, as Joyce passed fifty to little fanfare. While Toby Roland-Jones and Murtagh persisted for too long with some short-pitched bowling, Sussex will be more than satisfied with how they made hay in the evening, going at over four-an-over.
If Sussex finish the game with anything other than defeat after three days of toil, they will do so with great satisfaction and an even greater feeling of justice.