Roy's slow walk off sums up Surrey's lament
Surrey 134 for 6 trail Middlesex 395 (Gubbins 91, Malan 58, Robson 53, Curran 4-113) by 261 runs
There was a moment in the evening session, when the working men and women made use of free entry after tea, as the sun seemed to prop itself on top of the OCS stand, that summed up where the honours lay at the Oval.
Jason Roy, home favourite, T20 stud, was in the middle of a stern examination from Toby Roland-Jones - a bowler built to hit a deck hard enough to strike oil. This is a Surrey side with a young core against a Middlesex side that have been playing Division One cricket since 2012. Here was south London's jewel against north London's piston.
Roy, in the middle of playing out a maiden, defended the ball back to Roland-Jones, whose follow through always takes him to within chirping distance of the batsman. Roland-Jones said a few words. Roy kept schtum.
The Roy of old might have said a few words back. Middlesex were on top, Surrey were 72 for 4 after they had been thrashed before lunch for the icing on the visitors total of 395. This was a time for resistance rather than words, and Roy knew it.
The Roy of old might have also looked over to the short boundary towards the Archbishop Tenison's School and seen sixes beyond his wildest dreams. During mid-pitch discussions with Ben Foakes, with whom he gritted out a 60-run fifth-wicket stand from 144 balls, he might have even wondered if could spit further than the boundary's edge. This was a time for patience rather than power. And Roy knew it.
He remained diligent, played patiently and, having taken a few blows, decided to help Surrey fight their way out of the corner. Having timed his first ball through midwicket for four, he waited 27 more balls before hitting a second.
There were three more in the next 13, including a checked straight drive that is so his that there'd be no need to trademark it because so few others could copy it. But having made it to 47, ticking, he worked a tame leg spinner from Dawid Malan into the hands of Sam Robson at short leg. His walk off was slow but never once did he look back.
Middlesex bossed a lot of today and excelled in the moments that mattered. Their 10th wicket stand of 68 between Toby Roland-Jones (44*) and Tim Murtagh (24) took them well beyond par, after excellent bowling from Tom Curran and Gareth Batty upset the stumps of James Harris and James Franklin, respectively. Only 29 had been added to the overnight score when Murtagh began accompanying Roland-Jones, who struck four fours and three sixes - only one of which utilised the shorter side.
It wasn't quite the way Middlesex had intended on pushing for 400 after getting to 166 for one in the 43rd over. Like a kebab in the small hours of the morning, a last stand is not something to be relied upon for sustenance and is certainly not appealing to the senses. But, every now and again, it does the job.
So, too, by his own humble sentiments, does Ollie Rayner. After collecting 15-wickets here in 2013 when these two last faced off, Rayner returned to haunt Surrey with the first three wickets to fall. Conditions from the Pavilion End rewarded his use of the foot marks made by the quicks at the Vauxhall End to good effect. "I can't complain about being used just holding up an end or bringing back the over-rate and then not do a job when conditions are in my favour," he observed wryly at stumps.
The first two came in the same over - one which nearly included the prized scalp of Kumar Sangakkara. For a moment, it looked like Rayner had him first ball. Burns was caught at mid off via a leading edge, bringing the Sri Lanka superstar to the crease. On the money, Rayner drifted one in that beat the left-hander on the inside edge and hit pad. Not out. "I was spewing," said a smiling Rayner at stumps. "That would have been a nice one for the collection - Sangakkara, first pill."
The wicket of Harinath, lbw, arrived two balls later. He had to wait a bit longer to snare the scalp he coveted: a bit of drift and turn saw a skewed drive finish in the hands of Murtagh diving forward a backward point. He celebrated accordingly.
It is now 29 wickets for Rayner against Surrey - his next best opponents are Somerset, against whom he has 18. His contract is up at the end of the summer - "Middlesex are dragging their feet," he proclaimed, tongue firmly in cheek - and, when asked if he'd like to call the Oval, a more spin-friendly track, home, he laughed off the suggestion. His heart for now belongs north of the river.
There were signs of variable bounce today and, with Surrey 111 away from the follow-on target with just four wickets left. Whether that is enforced will depend on the weather, with rumblings of rain on day four. Even so, Middlesex are sniffing a first Championship win of the season.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport