Worcestershire 313 and 195 for 7 v Middlesex 392
Owais Shah cracked an emotionally-charged farewell hundred in his final match for Middlesex as they took charge on the third day of their Championship clash with Worcestershire at Lord's. After Middlesex reached 392, with Shah and Neil Dexter adding 158 for the sixth wicket, Moeen Ali's unbeaten 71 and Gareth Andrews' feisty 34 not out provided the visitors' only resistance as Pedro Collins and Toby Roland-Jones steadily chipped away at the visitor's line-up to reduce them to 195 for 7 - a lead of 116 - at the close.
Both Shah, who started the morning on 70 not out, and Dexter exercised due diligence outside off stump in the first hour as Alan Richardson and Jack Shantry maintained a disciplined line. Dexter, who was the more aggressive of the two early on, went to fifty from 75 balls with a gloved swish down the leg side that just evaded Ben Cox's gloves. Shah showed patience and a deft touch when the ball was there to be hit and went into the 90s with the shot of the morning - a flowing straight drive off Shantry.
Shah had a nervous moment when, on 95, he top-edged a sweep off Shakib Al Hasan that fell short of the man positioned at deep square leg for exactly that error, but overcame his nerves to go to a fitting hundred with a punch past mid-off. Many have felt that the manner of Shah's exit from Middlesex could have been handled more sensitively, and the personal importance of this knock was apparent in his celebration. The landmark was also greeted by warm applause from the smattering of spectators, with several MCC members standing to show their appreciation for this final effort.
He looked to be more attacking thereafter, dispatching Richardson imperiously through square leg with a thundering pull and stepping out of his crease to lift Shakib over mid-off for a one-bounce four. He went to lunch on 117 looking in ominous touch, but departed immediately after the resumption, slashing Ali to Daryl Mitchell at slip.
Ali, who didn't find as much out of the wicket from the Pavilion End as Shakib did from the Nursery, nevertheless bowled a guileful mixture of flighted and darted deliveries, and after removing Shah was gifted another wicket when Dexter, who had batted patiently to within sight of his eighth first-class hundred, sashayed down the wicket, was beaten in the flight, and chipped back a regulation caught-and-bowled chance to depart for 97.
Gareth Berg was slow to set off for a tight single and was caught short by a direct hit from David Wheeldon, while Tim Murtagh's heave down the ground went only as far as a backpeddling James Cameron at mid-on as Middlesex slipped to 390 for 9.
But, with dark clouds and heavy rain rapidly approaching from behind the pavilion, the umpires opted for the cautionary route and called the covers on at 1.50pm. St. John's Wood was spared the brunt of the downpour and after the late summer shower had swung past play resumed at 2.30pm. Three balls later, however, the players were again heading back for the pavilion when Ali flighted one outside off, tempting Roland-Jones into an injudicious drive outside off only to have his stumps disturbed via the inside edge to end the innings.
With Middlesex looking for an early breakthrough to push the game forward, at times in his opening spell Steven Finn bowled with real venom and responded to a clipped four to square leg with a vicious lifter that had Mitchell fending the ball away from his throat. Both Worcestershire openers appeared keen to press on and play their shots with Wheeldon, in particular, lucky not to pay the price as a slash at Murtagh flew threw gully and a top-edged hook at Finn arced over the wicketkeeper and slip cordon.
Murtagh gave Mitchell a thorough working-over outside off stump, beating him with a succession of perfectly placed outswingers, but it was a run-out that brought the first wicket and it was Wheeldon to fall. Pushing an innocuous delivery from Shah towards Roland-Jones at backward point and setting off for a non-existent single, he was swiftly sent back but was caught well short by a rifling throw and departed for 22.
Mitchell fought valiantly against a Middlesex attack that didn't give anything away, but was finally undone by Collins, who shattered his stumps via the inside edge to reduce the visitors to 62 for 3. Collins was on a hat-trick when he trapped Alex Kervezee infront of his stumps first ball, but Shakib survived a testing first delivery to deny him the honour.
With Ali soon into his stride with a collection of flowing drives on both sides of the wicket, Shakib looked to be settling too when he chopped Roland-Jones eagerly to the point boundary, but a couple of balls later he edged a similar attempt to Dawid Malan at first slip, who juggled and parried the attempt but managed to cling on.
With that Worcestershire were 102 for 5, but Ali continued in his own bubble, crunching Collins through midwicket to pass fifty and celebrating with an even more authoritative stroke to the same region off the very next ball. But Middlesex kept up the pressure at the other end, and Roland-Jones found himself on a hat-trick too when he found the edge of James Cameron and Cox's bats from consecutive deliveries. Gareth Andrew edged the hat-trick ball through a diving slip cordon and it appeared there was a real possibility that Middlesex would chase under 100 in their second innings.
But Andrew and Ali proved impossible to dislodge, and Middlesex's fielding grew noticeably ragged towards the end of the day's play. Ali could have departed for 68 when he lifted a full-toss from Shah towards Roland-Jones at long leg, but the chance was dropped and with the lead now at 116 Middlesex may well face a tricky chase tomorrow.