Warwickshire will face a true test of their title credentials at Edgbaston today after batsmen Chris Rogers and Dawid Malan provided the bedrock for a substantial Middlesex lead.
Rogers made 109 and Malan 138 not out, sharing a partnership of 203 for the third wicket that enabled Middlesex to turn a 46-run first-innings deficit into an advantage of 305 to take into the final day. Warwickshire will surrender the First Division lead if they fail to win and Sussex complete a victory at Taunton, which seems likely.
The experience brought by Rogers, the 34-year-old Australian who is with his fourth first-class county after moving from Derbyshire two years ago, has been vital to keeping Middlesex in the First Division after winning promotion as champions last season.
Yesterday's century was his third of the season – his 55th overall – and he has added close to 1,000 more runs during the current campaign to a career aggregate that exceeds 18,000.
On a wicket with good bounce and carry but which has given the bowlers something to work with, he needed that know-how, too, but if he played impressively, then so too did Malan, who did well to survive a hostile spell from Boyd Rankin just after tea to close in on his career best of 143.
After bowling out Warwickshire for 333, Middlesex suffered early blows when Sam Robson was drawn into play a fine ball from Chris Wright and was caught behind, while Joe Denly compounded a disappointing match to be caught acrobatically at slip off a poor shot against the same bowler.
But then Rogers and Malan scarcely offered the hint of a chance over the next 47 overs until Rankin returned for his third spell, just after tea. The Irish pace bowler struck with his third ball in the final session, when Rogers cut him to slip, and followed that success two overs later when Neil Dexter, the first-innings centurion, was brilliantly caught by William Porterfield at gully. When Adam Rossington fell into a trap set for him by top-edging a pull to be well caught by Darren Maddy, Middlesex's lead was 206.
The pattern of this match has been for wickets to come in clusters, however, and Rankin's third success was the last of the day as Malan found another staunch ally in Gareth Berg, who carefully constructed an unbeaten 53 in another substantial partnership. This has so far been worth 99, to which they will doubtless seek to add more this morning.