Surrey's resistance is a sober lesson for young souls
Surrey 242 (Foakes 59*, Rayner 6-79) and 98 for 0 trail Middlesex 395 by 55 runs
The hum of the Oval, generally a low murmur that has descended seamlessly into grumbles over the last month, was knocked up several octaves on day three. As part of Surrey's school initiatives, thousands of children filed into the OCS stand before the start of play to bump up the attendance to more than 6,000.
"I was going to sit over there," complained one regular, as he looked over ruefully at the sea of more than 100 different school uniforms gleefully smashing inflatable sticks together. In his defence, it is a part of the ground that is usually bathed in sunshine at the start of the evening session.
Today, however, the clouds covered it up. Only the floodlights offered any illumination. By then, the kids had filed out at tea, ushered out of the gates just after tea by their bedraggled teachers. Their concentration had started to wane: one even managed to evade the eyes of his supervisors to find refuge under the white tarpaulin that was acting as a sightscreen for this match.
Rory Burns spotted him as a head popped up through the tightly pulled sheet. Arun Harinath dobbed him in. A swift telling off from a steward did the trick as the child returned to his unimpressed teacher. Burns and Harinath were in the middle of their own naughty-boy detention: asked to do better with the bat after Surrey's first innings ended four short of avoiding the follow-on. Their concentration second-time around was worthy of a gold star.
Ollie Rayner had ended Surrey's first attempt at parity, taking 3 for 35 earlier in the day to give him innings figures of 6 for 79. Absurdly, 21 of the last 28 wickets that Middlesex have taken against Surrey belong to him.
He had to work a bit harder for today's haul. The shrillest, over-enthusiastic cheers of the morning came about through Gareth Batty, whose six fours were a reference the younger generation could appreciate. They were baffled somewhat when an appeal for caught behind off Tom Curran was only given once the standing umpire had consulted with square leg to determine whether the ball had carried.
Luckily that brought Batty to the crease. His counter-attacking cameo of 38, while quintessentially Batty - two parts grit to one part "not on my watch, sunshine" - was a measured hand in a 62 run-partnership with an obdurate Ben Foakes.
Foakes struck just one four in his unbeaten 235-ball stay. At times you had to remind yourself that he was still around. There was not much rotation of the strike, nor was he troubled by what was being hurled his way. Which makes his decision to give the strike to Ravi Rampaul - hamstrung and with Burns as his runner - with four balls to go in a Rayner over and just five required to make Middlesex bat again somewhat dubious. A dart from Rayner to a motionless Rampaul struck a boot. Lbw. Innings done.
It was a shame that the kids did not stick around to see the full scale of Burns and Harinath's work. The pair batted through to stumps: a 45-over stint which featured 36-overs-worth of dot balls.
Burns look in good touch, middling all, whether it was a shot down the ground for runs or a defensive bunt into either side. His second Championship half-century of the season came from 124 balls. Meanwhile Harinath did as Harinath does: watching, waiting, accumulating. Both kept their composure impressively during a late barrage of short-pitched bowling from James Harris and Toby Roland-Jones, as the lights dimmed on south London.
There were life lessons for young souls out in the middle. That life is about the fight to get what you need. That nothing worth having comes easy. And that, despite what people may say, Kiwis can be cruel.
James Franklin, rattled by Burns' constant and unwavering defence, picked up a ball pushed back off his own bowling and hurled it at the defender's stumps. Burns, on 26 at the time and well in his crease, remained still and took the blow on his pads. Franklin turned to the umpire, who shrugged. Franklin shrugged back.
That was all Middlesex could do in the evening session. Shrug at why they were unable to get something from a pitch that had treated them well over the last 48 hours. Even Rayner had to swap ends for the first time in the match, having seemingly squeezed as much juice as he could from the Pavilion End.
For all their effort, and with the forecast promising rain tomorrow morning, Middlesex will probably find themselves, much like Wednesday's child, full of woe.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport