Sussex 392 and 236 for 3 (Pujara 125*, Alsop 66) lead Middlesex 358 (Hollman 82, Simpson 71, Holden 58, Andersson 55, Robinson 5-66) by 270 runs
Now, ahead of two more home Tests against the Kiwis, he finds himself fighting for a way back into a who-knows-what scenario beyond the jaw-dropping form of a new England captain. Just as Ben Stokes marked his return from injury with a pivotal display for Durham on Friday, Robinson, making his first appearance since breaking down with back spasms during the fateful fifth Ashes Test, played a crucial role for Sussex with his haul spanning two days to ensure the hosts held a narrow first-innings lead.
Robinson had taken 3 for 37 from his 13 overs the previous day, the second of which bowled Middlesex captain Peter Handscomb to reduce the visitors to 45 for 4. He struck again to end a 130-run stand for the fifth wicket between John Simpson and Max Holden and, after Middlesex had resumed on 284 for 6 on Saturday, he claimed two more in the space of eight legitimate deliveries.
Shaheen Shah Afridi was run out chancing a single off Sean Hunt to mid-on where Tom Haines threw down the stumps at the non-striker’s end with ease, and Hunt wrapped up the innings with an excellent yorker that took out middle stump, ending Hollman’s knock on 82 and leaving Middlesex still 34 runs adrift.
Sussex’s second innings began under a pall of heavy grey cloud and the Middlesex bowlers darkened their mood further when Afridi and Ethan Bamber reduced them to 6 for 2 inside two overs.
Afridi struck with the second ball of the innings when he had Ali Orr – dropped on the second ball of the first innings before going on to make 99 – caught behind trying to dodge a bumper. Haines followed, also caught behind for a duck, when Bamber enticed an edge outside off stump.
Bamber nearly had a second but first-innings centurion Alsop survived on nought when he edged one that could have gone to either Handscomb at first slip or Robbie White at second but eluded both.
Play stopped again for bad light, although Pujara saw the ball just fine as he uppercut Afridi for six over backward point moments before the air turned cold and gentle rain began to fall.
When the players returned, Pujara and Alsop lifted the hosts with a characterful partnership.
Pujara is also looking to re-ignite his Test career, having joined Sussex after being dropped for India’s series with Sri Lanka in March and making the last of his 95 appearances against South Africa in January.
Pujara punched Afridi through the covers for four in the next phase of an absorbing contest between the two, while Alsop settled nicely into his innings, cultivating the strike as his batting partner’s strokeplay delighted an appreciative gathering of spectators which, given the weather, was decent.
Pujara has been in scintillating touch this Championship season, with two double-centuries in three matches bookending another hundred and Alsop has been in fine form this match. The pair each reached fifty within the space of four balls, Alsop punching Afridi for fours in front of square leg and point.
Alsop had twice profited via edges through a vacant third slip region but, with Handscomb the only man patrolling the cordon, Andersson finally split the union when he had Alsop caught by the Middlesex captain diving to his left.
Pujara pummelled Hollman through mid-off for four, prompting the 21-year-old legspinner to slap his head in self flagellation, then pulled the next ball for six over deep square leg and Hollman was subsequently yanked from the attack, having conceded 34 off his four overs.
Pujara gave Andersson short shrift too, pulling him for a powerful four behind square leg and he moved to 99 with another pulled four off Mark Stoneman. Afridi re-entered and beat Pujara outside off stump then rapped him on the bottom hand with one that lifted to the batter’s surprise before Pujara raised his ton in the next over, cutting Stoneman for three through backward point.
With the ground bathed in bright sunshine for the first time all day, the players walked off at 7.08pm, Pujara again acknowledging warm applause for his unbeaten 125, having put on a further 92 runs so far with Tom Clark and seen Sussex to a healthy lead.
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo