Middlesex 169 and 210 for 5 (Malan 69*, Eskinazi 60) lead Sussex 171 (Harris 4-61) by 208 runs
Not all fifties are created equal, and Dawid Malan knows that better than most.
Six weeks ago, he struck two of the more facile half-centuries of his first-class career in the England Lions win against India A on a lifeless New Road ahead of his selection for the first Test against India; here, on a green Lord's wicket, he was made to fight for every run by Sussex's seamers, but his measured, patient innings was worth far more than his overnight score of 69 indicated.
When Malan was axed from the Test side after the first Test at Edgbaston almost a month ago, he was damned with what appeared to be faint praise by national selector Ed Smith. "Dawid has not found his best rhythm this season," said Smith, "and it may be that his game is better suited to overseas conditions."
The pair have since discussed those comments at length, and Smith clarified that he intended them to be "constructive feedback" rather than criticism, but these runs on what amounts to a typical English wicket that has offered plenty for the seamers over the course of these two days will have pleased Malan no end.
The last time he raised his bat in all formats came after a single off Shahbaz Nadeem's gentle left-arm spin to put the Lions 357 runs ahead in that tour match in mid-July, and there was a sense at that point that Malan was coming into form at just the right time. Instead, it has been a trying period for him. When he was trapped lbw by a David Wiese inswinger in the first innings, he had managed just 11 runs in his past three first-class knocks. England's top order was failing but so was he.
There have only been glimpses of Malan at his fluent best in an England shirt, and coming in at 29 for 2, this was never likely to be an opportunity to show that. Instead, he battled hard against Sussex's bowlers, and his back-and-forth duel with Jofra Archer was the highlight of an even day.
His unbeaten innings and Stevie Eskinazi's 60 have put Middlesex in front in a game they must win to keep their ambitions of an immediate return to Division One alive, after their seamers had completed the job against the Sussex lower order.
Archer had made his mark on the innings early in the piece with a rip-snorter that pegged back Nick Gubbins' off stump, and on 18, Malan played and missed at a ball outside his off stump that bowler and slip cordon alike were convinced he had nicked. The Sussex appeal was loud and prolonged - and may yet land Archer in hot water, such was its exuberance - but Malan survived, and is too cool a head to have been unsettled by the handful of verbals directed his way.
Unfazed, he pressed on towards a dogged half-century, and two balls after raising his bat played the shot of the day with a vicious swivel pull off Archer. By close, he had batted for over four hours for his unbeaten 69, and he will feel that his Middlesex side are in a good position to secure what would be a fourth Championship win in five if they can bat until lunch tomorrow.
Earlier, Middlesex's seamers mopped up the Sussex tail with the deficit just two runs before Eskinazi - playing as a wicketkeeper on account of John Simpson's uncharacteristically lean season - pulled and drove patiently to set the innings up for Malan.
When Holden, who struck a measured 50 not out in the first innings, miscued a hook to deep square leg with the score 152 for 5, Middlesex were in trouble. But James Harris - who has a remarkable recent record batting in the second innings, with 183 runs since his last dismissal - joined Malan, and their determined, unbroken partnership of 58 meant they left Lord's marginally ahead.
Chasing anything in excess of 250 will be a tricky ask for a Sussex side whose strong suit across formats this season has been their bowling, but it would be foolish to write them off with two days left in the game. How long Malan can last in the morning may yet prove decisive.