Middlesex 356 and 47 for 3 (Kaneria 3-10) lead Essex 345 (Walker 150, Foster 73, Murtagh 6-84) by 58 runs
For a day at least the focus on England's middle order didn't include Lord's as Essex fought back from a potential follow-on situation to have a chance of a final-day victory. Matt Walker hit a season-best 150, adding 163 with James Foster, and the stand meant Ravi Bopara had to wait for his last-chance innings.
It was swing that did for the Essex top-order yesterday, but it's spin that could yet undo Middlesex. Danish Kaneria found Sam Robson's edge in his second over and trapped Nick Compton with a top-spinner. Then, three overs before the close, he also extracted Eoin Morgan when the left-hander padded up to one that turned back on him. Kaneria ended the day with five men around the bat and created pressure with every ball.
After the first innings ended level a collapse was the only route to opening up this game. Middlesex may just provide one. It is one of those third-innings scenarios where the batting side can become stuck, not knowing how to see out the game.
That Essex were in such a position, though, was down to Walker's second hundred in three matches, his highest score for the county, and it took him top of their Championship run-scorers. He had moments of fortune when the occasional edge lobbing into space, but it was a highly controlled and focused innings. His hundred came up from 256 balls with a typically punchy straight drive off Tim Murtagh and during the final session he passed 150 having been dropped at gully, by Owais Shah, on 130. What Bopara would have given for half those runs.
Finally Middlesex extracted him when Compton took a well-judged catch at deep midwicket to give Kartik his first wicket. However, Middlesex should consider this a wasted opportunity as they were still well placed to chase their second consecutive Championship victory when Essex resumed on 107 for 4.
The home attack bowled poorly during the first session as Walker and Foster eased through to lunch. Foster was first to his fifty off 116 balls and had designs on three figures when he misjudged a run into the covers from the fifth ball of the afternoon session. Compton, who had a chance to run out Bopara yesterday, collected cleanly and returned to Kartik at the stumps with Foster short.
That breakthrough came shortly before the new ball was due and Middlesex - or rather Murtagh - made further inroads. Ryan ten Doeschate and Graham Napier were both caught on the crease by deliveries that nipped back and Murtagh had the six wickets to fall to a bowler. But again Middlesex couldn't build on the opening as Walker was joined by David Masters in an eighth-wicket stand of 77 in 24 overs.
Essex fell five short of another batting point. However, if the contest was seemingly heading towards stalemate, Kaneria's late intervention changed the picture. The final day could be his.
Middlesex vs Essex
England Domestic Season
County Championship Division Two
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo