Ed Barnard’s latest fine knock earned Worcestershire a narrow first innings lead over Middlesex and then Dillon Pennington picked up three wickets to keep alive their victory hopes on day two of the LV=Insurance County Championship match at Merchant Taylor’s School.
Barnard struck an unbeaten 69 to take his run tally this summer in red ball cricket to 734 at an average of 73.40 with three hundreds and four fifties.
He was well supported by Gareth Roderick and Josh Baker in leading a recovery from 49-5 to 191 all out and a three-run advantage.
Then Pennington was rewarded for some sustained excellent bowling which brought him figures of 3-27 from 13 overs.
The other seamers also stuck to their task in the sultry conditions, with Joe Leach producing a magnificent catch off his own bowling to dismiss Sam Robson, and Baker followed up his knock with two key wickets.
But an unbroken stand of 41 between Luke Hollman and Toby Roland-Jones lifted Middlesex to 180-6 from 65 overs – a lead of 177 – before bad light halted play.
It was attritional but always gripping cricket, with both sides appearing to have the advantage at different stages, on a pitch which still offered enough assistance to keep bowlers interested throughout the day.
Worcestershire resumed on 100-5 and Barnard cover drove the first ball of the day from Tim Murtagh through the covers for four.
He then got up onto the back foot to punch Tom Helm past point for another boundary.
The partnership with Roderick was extended to 71 before two wickets fell in quick succession.
Roderick (23) edged a lifting delivery from Helm to second slip where Sam Robson took a fine catch away to his right.
Leach (7) then went for an expansive drive and was caught behind by John Simpson at 127-7.
But Barnard found another staunch ally in Baker who cover drove Murtagh for successive boundaries.
A single to third man off Helm enabled Barnard to complete an excellent 79 ball half century with eight fours.
Baker showed plenty of determination during a searching examination against the pace of Umesh Yadav.
But he also produced plenty of quality strokes and dominated the strike and the scoring as a half century stand with Barnard was completed off just 59 deliveries.
Baker moved onto 36 in a stand of 60 in 11.4 overs but a ball change led to the last three wickets falling in quick succession.
Baker was caught at mid wicket off Roland-Jones after looking to turn the ball on the leg side.
Charlie Morris (2) departed in similar fashion after he and Barnard had eased Worcestershire into a narrow lead.
Roland-Jones wrapped up the innings with his fourth scalp when Dillon Pennington (0) lost his off stump.
When Middlesex batted for a second time, opener Mark Stoneman on nine was dropped at first slip by Ed Pollock off Morris bowling around the wicket.
Stoneman and Sam Robson were made to work extremely hard to survive and keep the scoreboard moving against some probing bowling.
They managed to extend their stand to 52 before Pennington struck twice in the space of three balls.
Stoneman (27), for the second time in the game, was dismissed trying to hit Pennington on the legside and he top edged a delivery which came quickly onto the bat to Morris at fine leg.
Jack Davies (0) was then unable to control a ball which stopped in the pitch and he gloved it onto the offside where Barnard ran around from third slip to take the catch.
Leach came back into the attack and bowled a real testing spell which deservedly brought him the wicket of Robson (35).
He found the leading edge of the former England opener and held onto a superb return one-handed diving catch away to his left.
Baker entered the attack and he produced a fine delivery to account for Max Holden (8) who was unable to deal with the sharp turn and was bowled through the gate.
Middlesex reached 110-4 at tea and Morris began the final session of the day by asking plenty of questions as he hit the ideal length to trouble the batters.
But the fifth wicket pair of Rob White and John Simpson began to flourish until they departed in successive overs.
White (37) pushed forward to Baker and was lbw and then Pennington was rewarded when Simpson (26) drove hard and Jack Haynes held onto a sharp chance at second slip.
Middlesex were then 139-6 but Hollman, who ended on 37, and Roland-Jones ensured there were no more breakthroughs