Sussex look strong going into final day against Middlesex at Hove

Sussex 392 and 236-3, Middlesex 358.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s fourth century in as many matches – and two of them were doubles – put Sussex in a strong position in their LV= Insurance County Championship match against Middlesex at Hove.

Middlesex had dominated the first half of the third day but then a third wicket partnership of 138 at five an over between Pujara and Tom Alsop, whose run-scoring matched that of the Indian maestro before he was well caught at slip for 66, put Sussex on top and set up the possibility of a declaration and run chase on the final day.

Pujara pulled spinner Mark Stoneman for four to reach 99 and then cut the same bowler through backward-point for three to reach his hundred from 133 balls, with 13 fours and a six.

At the close Sussex were 236 for three, a lead of 270, with Pujara 125 not out.

Earlier the most important Sussex player was Ollie Robinson, who completed a five-wicket return in his first match for four months.

Middlesex had resumed on 284 for six, still 108 runs in arrears. But after just four overs, and with the new ball available, the players came off for bad light.

When they returned Martin Andersson edged Aaron Beard through the too-wide gap between first and second slips to reach a 92-ball half-century.

The opening session was almost 90 minutes old before Sussex broke through, with the last delivery of the 89th over, when Robinson had Andersson caught, low down, by Alsop at first slip. He and the impressive Luke Hollman had put on 99 for the seventh wicket.

The same combination of Robinson and Alsop soon accounted for Blake Cullen – and at lunch Middlesex were 335 for eight.

Shaheen Shah Afridi clipped Mason Crane to square leg to bring up the 350 and win Middlesex a fourth batting point. But in the next over the same batsman drove Sean Hunt to mid-on but failed to beat Tom Haines’s direct hit.

Hunt then removed Hollman’s middle stump as the batsman heaved across the line. Hollman’s obdurate innings had brought him a first-class best 82 and Middlesex, with their upside-down looking scorecard, had made 358 and trailed Sussex by just 34 runs.

Robinson, who apart from the first over bowled downhill from the Cromwell Road end for the duration of the opening session, finished with figures of 5-66 in 24 overs.

When Sussex batted again, under dark clouds and bright floodlights, they lost both openers without scoring in the first seven balls. At this stage they must have been reminded of their opening game of the season, against Nottinghamshire. Then, they scored 375 and had Notts struggling at 52 for four before going on to lose the match by 10 wickets.

On this occasion, Ali Orr was out second ball, caught behind off Afridi, who surprised the batsman with his pace and bounce. Then, with the first delivery of the next over, Ethan Bamber dismissed Haines, who was also caught by wicketkeeper John Simpson. And Sussex would have been nine for three if Alsop had not been dropped at slip before scoring.

The contest between the prolific Pujara and Afridi was compelling. Pujara uppercut Afridi over third man for six. But then, after just three overs and with the score 15 for two, the players came off for bad light. They were away for just over an hour, in which time they took tea, but with overs lost.

When they returned, Pujara and Tom Alsop, and then Tom Clark, reasserted Sussex’s advantage, though with chunks of time lost to bad light a draw remains a strong possibility.

Sussex pace bowler Sean Hunt said: “It was nice to get off the mark with a couple of wickets. It’s been a tough journey back but it had to be done. I had to set myself goals, such as posing weight, but I’ve been incredibly well supported.

“And it’s great having international fast bowlers around who I can go to for advice. We want to get, say, 350 ahead of them and then have a dart.”

The young Middlesex all-rounder Luke Hollman said: “It was nice to get my personal best score. So many of us contributed to almost reaching parity with the Sussex total. It’s a batting wicket. The surface is placid, so whatever they set us, we’ll have a look at chasing it down.”

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