LV COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP, Division One Warwickshire 106 (S I Mahmood 4-21, G Chapple 4-42) & 125-2 (I J Westwood 50) v Lancashire 311 (V V S Laxman 103, P J Horton 71, N M Carter 5-62)
It may come too late to save them, but Warwickshire at last showed some fight as they clawed their way back into the championship game against Lancashire.
A disciplined display with the ball was followed by a defiant demonstration with the bat as Warwickshire at least showed that they would go down fighting.
Kent's dominant position against Hampshire suggests that Warwickshire are doomed. But if the Bears are able to set a target somewhere in excess of 200 — and the fact that they have passed 400 only four times this season does not bode particularly well — there may yet to be a twist in this season.
Warwickshire also enjoyed a small slice of fortune. With 13 overs remaining, play was abandoned for the day when the setting sun behind the bowler's arm at the Stretford End made life impossible for the batsmen. There is some irony in sun stopping play in Manchester of all places, but the batsmen needed no second invitation to retire to the safety of the pavilion. It also reiterated the impression that this ageing ground is ripe for redevelopment.
There was nothing fortunate about Warwickshire's bowling, however. For the second game in a row they performed impressively. Neither Heath Streak or Alfonso Thomas, both of whom found dangerous lateral movement, enjoyed any fortune, while Neil Carter underlined his resurgence with the sixth five-wicket haul of his career. Tim Ambrose also had cause for satisfaction after claiming five catches in an innings for the first time for Warwickshire.
Indeed, had it not been for the imperious batting of VVS Laxman (165 balls, 16 fours) the situation would have been even better for the visitors. The Indian is a player of uncommon class and hardly played a false shot on the way to the 41st first-class century of his career.
On a pitch that remains blameless, however, Lancashire may be somewhat disappointed with their first innings total. A number of batsmen squandered their wickets with complacent shots, with Glen Chapple and Dominic Cork — caught slashing to extra-cover and point respectively — particularly culpable.
Warwickshire deserved some return for their hard work, however. Streak soon had Luke Sutton caught behind groping at a fine outswinger before Sajad Mahmood edged a fearsome bouncer on to his helmet and up to the slip cordon. Oliver Newby provided aggressive support in a ninth-wicket partnership of 60, but when he missed a sweep and Laxman edged a drive, Lancashire lead was 205; still daunting, but it could have been much worse.
Had Michael Powell taken a sharp chance at slip offered by Mahmood, then Streak would have claimed his 500th first-class wicket in his game. As it is, he remains stranded on 499 and far from guaranteed another bowl.
Carter bowled with customary aggression and commitment. Though this was only his fourth five-wicket haul for Warwickshire — and the first away from Edgbaston — he does offer hostility not found elsewhere on the staff and remains an 'impact player' of some worth. It is no surprise that he is of interest to several other counties and Warwickshire may face a fight to retain his services.
Ant Botha also bowled tidily, though Warwickshire search for a match-winning spinner goes on. The club have not given up on their attempt to sign Muttiah Muralitharan. Although the Sri Lankan off-spinner has a long association with Lancashire, the club have already agreed a deal with Australian batsman Brad Hodge for next year. Hodge's availability is likely to be severally curtailed by international call-ups, however, so Lancashire are believed to want to sign-up Murali in reserve.
Beginning their second innings under severe pressure, Warwickshire's openers showed admirable courage and application. Despite a severe examination against the short ball, both men got in line and defended stoutly during a stand of 60, with Ian Westwood taking every opportunity to put away the bad ball.
Westwood, driving crisply and slog-sweeping with confidence, led the way, but Powell provided dogged support until edging a drive at one that spun away from him to slip.
Jonathan Trott sustained the resistance. Skipping down the wicket and lofting the left-arm spin of Gary Keedy for six, he looked far from the crease-bound batsman that has struggled for runs in recent months and resumes this morning with power to add. Westwood fell just before the close when Paul Horton clung on to a superb bat-pad chance at short-leg.
Meanwhile one of the umpires, 54-year-old Nigel Cowley, was taken to hospital just before play after suffering chest pains. Cowley, who lives in Worcestershire, was kept in Trafford General Hospital overnight. Lancashire's director of cricket, Mike Watkinson, stood in as square leg umpire for the first half-hour, before John Holder arrived to take over.