A stoic unbeaten half-century from Dawid Malan kept alive Middlesex’s hopes of victory over promotion-chasing Sussex on day two at Lord’s.
The Middlesex skipper, recently discarded by England, produced a timely return to form, hitting 69 not out to guide the hosts to 210-5, a lead of 208 in an absorbing three sessions at the Home of Cricket.
His was a study in defiance and concentration, containing just five boundaries, but the runs may yet prove crucial as Middlesex search for a third win in a row to keep their own slim hopes of promotion alive.
This was proper old-fashioned, hard-nosed county cricket, every run earnt and every almost every wicket prized out on a pitch offering encouragement to the bowlers and occasionally keeping low at the Nursery End.
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Sussex began on 120-6, 49 runs behind with Ben Brown and Chris Jordan the not out batsmen.
Jordan had been dropped at slip by Sam Robson late on the first evening, but James Harris (4-61) made sure the life given him didn’t prove too costly, bowling the former England all-rounder with a huge in-swinger in the third over of the day.
Harris, the country’s leading wicket taker struck again in his fourth over, pinning the in-form Ben Brown LBW for 24 and with Steven Finn and Ethan Bamber picking up a wicket apiece Sussex were all out for 171 after 77 minutes play – a lead of two.
Nick Gubbins and Robson looked to have negotiated a testing period before lunch only for Jofra Archer to bowl the former for eight with what proved the last ball before lunch.
Resuming just 17 ahead, Middlesex soon lost Robson LBW to Ollie Robinson to one which kept low and were in trouble at 29-2.
His dismissal was the prelude to a riveting afternoon’s cricket. Stevie Eskinazi, who’d come in on a pair and the out of form Malan slowly attempted a rebuild against an exacting visiting seam attack who defended resolutely in the face of the host’s fight-back.
Eskinazi, was scratchy at first until a sumptuous off-drive changed his mood. Eight further boundaries flowed from his bat as he battled to a fourth half-century of the campaign from 93 balls.
At the other end, Malan, while clearly not in touch, doggedly resisted, surviving a huge appeal for caught behind off Jofra Archer, the seamer’s elongated appeal causing a discussion between the umpires at the end of the over.
The pair added 87, but just as they threatened to turn the game Middlesex’s way the excellent Robinson produced a brute of a ball which lifted and took the edge – wicketkeeper Brown did the rest.
Eoin Morgan’s wretched run of low scores continued when Jordan bowled him off the inside edge immediately after tea, leaving Middlesex 125-4.
And, Max Holden, looking surprisingly fretful given his unbeaten half-century in the first innings, gave the visitors another breakthrough when hooking Archer into the hands of Haines at deep square.
Malan though continued to resist, reaching 50 in eight minutes short of three hours and he found an ally in Harris, the pair sharing a half-century stand with power to add in the morning.
Bowler Ollie Robinson said: “I think yesterday it moved around a lot where today it seems to have got a bit slower with less movement. Hopefully tomorrow it might be the best time to bat.
“So, if we can get early wickets in the morning it could go a long way towards winning the game.
“Dawid Malan applied himself very well for them. He’s played Test cricket for England, so we were expecting that.
“Hopefully our batters have been watching that and can emulate it when we come to bat.
“Sometimes you get the rub of the green where you don’t bowl as well and you get more wickets.
“We have got to hold on, be patient and hopefully the wickets do come.”