Chawla-inspired Somerset run riot
Middlesex 106 (Chawla 3-8, Meschede 3-25) and 52 for 2 trail Somerset 449 (Chawla 112, Barrow 65, Trescothick 64, Jones 58, Thomas 54, Patel 4-89) by 291 runs
Relegation remains a real possibility for one of these two teams while the other - in theory, at least - could still win the Championship. But on the evidence of today's entertainment it is hard to understand the position of either county.
Middlesex, who led the table in May and have seldom been out of the top three, turned themselves into title long shots by losing to Derbyshire last week. And their batting, openers Sam Robson and Chris Rogers apart, has looked worryingly brittle for much of the campaign.
But, really, nothing could satisfactorily explain their first-innings capitulation to 106 all out, uncomfortably their season's lowest total - not even the fact that Somerset were suddenly buzzing with self-belief after seeing their last three wickets add 238 runs.
Piyush Chawla was the man who topped and tailed Middlesex's misery. The occasional India international scored the fourth first-class century of his career and then made sure the hosts followed on, 343 behind, well before the end of day two by taking 3 for 8 with his legspin.
But this performance, with bat, ball and in the field, was a real team effort - and exactly what Somerset's director of cricket, Dave Nosworthy, had in mind when he called for "guts, character and plain willpower" going into this fixture.
Having been helped hugely on Wednesday by Alex Barrow during an eighth wicket stand of 107, Chawla was then kept company for 38 overs by Alfonso Thomas as another 99 precious runs were added. Even when Chawla fell for 112, Thomas completed an unbeaten half-century while last man Jamie Overton eased into double figures.
If Middlesex felt dejected then no wonder. After all, they had reduced the visitors to 211 for 7 by shortly after tea on day one. But, even so, their response with the bat was pretty feeble - hard though they were hit by Overton, Lewis Gregory and Craig Meschede before Chawla had even turned his arm.
Geoff Miller, England's national selector, arrived in the media centre during the afternoon to watch Overton - his panel's latest pick - prepare for a possible full international debut next week. Miller might not have enjoyed seeing Overton no-balled on five occasions for overstepping the crease (especially with one-day cricket in mind) but the 19-year-old worked up a hostile pace and, even better, had Australia opener Chris Rogers taken at third slip after angling a delivery across the left-hander.
Thereafter, it was a painfully sad procession for Middlesex. Joe Denly clipped Gregory meekly to square leg while John Simpson was superbly caught, low down at third slip, by Nick Compton off the same bowler - those dismissals coming either side of two in two for Meschede, who began his spell by drawing Robson into an ill-advised cut before yorking Neil Dexter.
When Dawid Malan, whose wretched Championship season shows no signs of improving, edged Meschede to the keeper, it seemed unlikely that Middlesex would reach three figures. That they at least avoided one indignity was down mainly to Ollie Rayner - but Chawla stepped forward to ensure the home tail would not wag with anything like the force of Somerset's
Chawla is very much a Plan B signing. The west country county had expected to welcome back Pakistan spinner Abdur Rehman for the last few matches of the season, only for that idea to be scuppered by a rearranged international tour of Zimbabwe.
Instead, Somerset snapped up Chawla. And while he failed to pick up a wicket on debut against Warwickshire last week, his performance here - so far, at least - has been just what was wanted.
Spin bowling is his first occupation. But the 24-year-old left-hander's record shows he can bat all right - and that is exactly what he did here, for a little more than four hours. Extremely watchful in defence, Chawla played with almost exaggerated care on occasions. But he could not have been much more decisive, or dynamic, in attack - especially when using his feet against the spinners to drive ferociously.
That air of confidence was never more obvious than when Chawla sealed his century by going down the pitch to Ravi Patel and hoisting the slow left-armer into the seats on the short Mound Stand side of the ground.
Middlesex made 10 bowling changes during the morning session, thereby underlining their mounting frustration. But while they did not give it away with the ball, one or two of their batsmen may not be able to look in the mirror and say precisely the same.
At least Robson and Malan denied Somerset further successes in the evening after the early losses of Rogers and Denly. But the hosts have a mountain climb - to save this match, never mind to retain even a passing interest in the title race.