Surrey (340 & 14-0) lead Warwickshire (209) by 145 runs with all their second innings wickets intact
Warwickshire face a battle to save the game after losing six wickets for 41 runs on the second afternoon to hand the initiative to Surrey.
The hosts bowled very well on a pitch that offers the seamers some assistance. But several of the Warwickshire batsmen played a role in their own downfall and their decline from 168 for three to 209 all out again highlighted some worrying frailty in the champions? batting.
Warwickshire are yet to recapture the batting form that powered them to the County Championship last year. Whereas last year they routinely passed 400 in their first innings, their last three first innings scores this season have been 209, 265 against Hampshire and 179 against Sussex.
They are missing Ian Bell, Mark Wagh and Brad Hogg from that side, it is true, and they have not had the benefit of winning the toss as they did so often last year. But the inability of the other batsmen to rise to the challenge is a worry, and threatens to sentence the team to their second defeat in three Championship games.
Nick Knight and Ian Westwood had started the Bears innings in fine style. They took full toll of some uncharacteristically loose bowling from Martin Bicknell to plunder 38 off his first five overs.
But Jimmy Ormond and Mohammad Akram were a different proposition altogether. Both men hit the pitch hard and found considerable bounce and move-ment, but as much as they deserve credit, it was the batsmen?s inability to leave the ball outside the off stump that cost them so dear.
Westwood was first wicket to fall, fencing at one that he could have left, Michael Powell then edged his push at a delivery out-side off stump, before Knight, who had appeared in fine touch, looked aghast with himself after wafting at a wide one.
Alex Loudon and Jonathan Trott added 82, with Loudon producing some sumptuous drives among his ten fours as well as one straight six off Harbhajan Singh. But is is centuries not 50s that win games and Loudon undid much of his good work by chasing a wide ball and gifting a catch to Jon Batty for 58.
Perhaps only Jim Troughton could count himself unfortunate. Sent back by Trott, Troughton appeared to have beaten Richard Clinton?s direct hit from square leg, but umpire Peter Willey saw it otherwise and ruled a run-out, before Dougie Brown was caught driving aggressively.
Tony Frost became Harbhajan?s first Surrey scalp when he was wonderfully caught at short leg off the face of the bat, before Trott skied his attempted pull and Neil Carter was beaten for pace by a yorker. Akram had taken four for six in 21 balls.
Yet the day had started so well for Warwickshire. They took the final six Surrey wickets for the addition of 116 runs and could feel well satisfied with their progress.
Loudon struck with his first ball; a beautifully-flighted delivery deceiving Ali Brown in the flight and turning to hit middle stump. It was a classic off-spinner?s dismissal.
It was also a fine piece of captaincy to bring the off-spinner into the attack for the first over of the day and Knight followed it with an equally shrewd piece of thinking. Placing himself in an unusual position, well away from the other slips but before the gully, he held a superb catch as Bicknell fenced at one that bounced and, had it not been for the excellence of Batty, Surrey would have struggled to pass 300.
Timothy Murtagh unveiled some attractive shots, particularly off the back foot, before Carter struck twice in an over. Bowling with real pace, Carter discomforted all the batsmen and had Murtagh and Harbhajan caught fending off short balls. Akram too, fell to a short ball, losing his balance in an attempt to duck Brown?s bouncer and falling on to his stumps.
If the last 14 months have taught us anything, it is that it is foolish to write off Warwickshire. They have so often summoned remarkable reserves of resilience to save what appeared lost causes. But with Harbhajan likely to find substantial assistance on the final day, Surrey are overwhelming favourites to wrap up victory.