A Middlesex batting collapse, in which they lost eight wickets for 79 runs, set up a potentially thrilling finish to their Specsavers County Championship Division Two match against Sussex at Hove.
Middlesex were bowled out for 322, with Danny Briggs and David Wiese both returning figures of four wickets for 70 runs, to set Sussex a challenging target of 230 to win on a pitch offering some assistance to both pace and spin. At the close of the third day Sussex were 35 for two, needing another 195.
Middlesex had resumed on 64 for two, still 29 runs behind. Dawid Malan and Nick Gubbins dominated the morning session and at lunch the score was 171 for two - 78 runs ahead with eight wickets in hand. Sussex had spurned their only chance when Ben Brown, diving in front of first slip, had spilled a difficult catch when Gubbins was on 35.
By mid-afternoon the match appeared to be slumbering in the warm sunshine. Malan (119) and Gubbins (107) had each scored commanding centuries and put on 234 for the third wicket. But then Briggs took three wickets in the space of five deliveries to inspire hopes of a first championship victory of the season for the home side.
Briggs and fellow spinner Luke Wells were bowling while Sussex ticked down the overs to the new ball. Briggs had Gubbins caught low down at short leg by Phil Salt. And the slow left-armer struck twice in his next over. He put himself on a hat-trick when Malan was stumped as he walked down the pitch and three balls later Hilton Cartwright edged to Harry Finch at first slip.
Shortly after tea, Middlesex lost three wickets in nine balls with the score on 303. John Simpson and Max Holden had added a crucial 58 for the sixth wicket when the former, attempting to drive a wide delivery from Wiese, chopped on to send his leg stump flying. In the next over Holden swept a legside delivery from Briggs onto his stumps and then James Harris was lbw to Wiese.
Middlesex were looking to Ollie Rayner and Tim Murtagh to strike some lusty blows. But Rayner, playing forward defensively, was beaten and bowled by Wiese and finally Tom Barber was run out after some neat fielding collaboration between Stiaan van Zyl and Finch on the boundary.
When Sussex batted in the long shadows of the final hour they soon lost Wells, who was caught in the slips off Harris for ten, and Salt was lbw to the same bowler for 12. Van Zyl had scored just one when he offered a difficult return catch to Murtagh, who put it down.
Briggs said: “We had to work hard before we picked up some wickets halfway through the day. Both Dawid [Malan] and Nick batted sensibly and patiently. It’s a good cricket wicket. There’s a bit of nip in it and some cracks have also opened up. With weather like this spinners can get wickets. It’s going to be hard batting on day four but the target is achievable.”