Smith and Styris delay defeat
Lancashire 505 and 6 for 0 (Chilton 4*, Sutcliffe 1*) need 77 more runs to beat Middlesex 161 and 426 (Styris 133, Smith 114, Cork 4-85)
Smith's century was his second of the season and will have brought welcome relief for a player who has become more acquainted with single figure scores in recent matches. However, he lived a charmed life and was put down on 96 when Kyle Hogg dropped a sitter at mid-on off Brad Hodge as Smith got a leading edge. He also flirted with Lancashire's deep-set field on the legside with a number of his pulls on just falling short of the fielders.
Hogg's drop came on a day when, on a rare occasion this summer, things didn't go Lancashire's way. At the start of the morning they needed to replace Luke Sutton with the second team wicketkeeper, Gareth Cross, after Sutton sustained a broken thumb on the second day. He had been struck by Mohammad Ali during his 72, but continued to bat and kept throughout Middlesex's first innings and the start of the follow-on. However, overnight the injury was assessed - via a trip back to Manchester - and Sutton is expected to be out for around a month, which rules him out of the Twenty20 zonal round.
For most of the morning session Cross and the rest of the fielders had watched Smith and the nightwatchman Chris Peploe. The bowling was not as impressive as the first innings and Smith was quick onto anything loose. Peploe showed an admirable defence although he could have been dislodged on 18 if Iain Sutcliffe had not been on his heels at short-leg.
It took the introduction of Hodge to break a stand of 127 when People slogged him straight to mid-on in his opening over. Hodge should have had Smith, too, but the century arrived off 136 balls. After lunch, though, Lancashire appeared to have made the killer breakthroughs. Smith was well held at mid-on by Cork then Owais Shah fell to a stunning reflex effort by Sutcliffe, at short-leg, who clung onto half-volley that Shah clipped cleanly off his toes.
Styris found a stubborn partner in David Nash, who has made himself very hard to drop after two gusty innings, and they added 134 in nearly two hours as the bowlers tired. Nash survived a huge appeal against Keedy first ball, but Mark Chilton had to use seven different options to try and remove him. It took the second new ball, and Cork running on empty, to do the job as Nash edged a flashing cut to Cross, after Tom Smith had added to the fielding blunders by dropping him on 27 at second slip.
Styris crossed to his first ton of the season off 113 balls and continued to play his shots with the bowlers for company. Chilton spilled him at point on 121 but he was finally removed by Cork during a commendable show of stamina on a flat pitch. Cork ended with a worthy four-wicket haul, and eight in the match, when he bounced out Mohammad Ali in the second over.
Middlesex's extra fight means Lancashire couldn't quite secure the day off they would have liked ahead of their C&G clash against Warwickshire, but by lunchtime tomorrow they will have consolidated their position at the top of the table as the Championship takes its Twenty20 break.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo