County Championship (day 2 of 4) at Edgbaston
Warwickshire 391 (I J L Trott 84, I J Westwood 82, T R Ambrose 72) v Sussex 151 & 106-2
When the fixtures were announced, the start of this season looked desperately tough for Warwickshire.
Opening matches against the two favourites for the championship title — Lancashire and Sussex — promised a severe test. A sudden change of captain and some insipid pre-season cricket did not bode well, either.
Yet Warwickshire have had the option to make both opponents follow on and look a more lively and tougher side than at any stage last season.
They start the third day of their match against Sussex very much in the ascendancy. They have impressed with bat and ball and made the champions appear very ordinary indeed.
This match is not yet won. The decision to enforce the follow-on, correct though it was, does allow Sussex a glimmer of light. A second-innings total of 400 would leave Warwickshire chasing about 160 on a last-day pitch and against Mushtaq Ahmed; it would not be easy.
Sussex will have to bat infinitely better today, however, for that to happen. They were feeble yesterday, lacking the stomach for the fight shown by Warwickshire and succumbing to their lowest championship total since last May.
Perhaps their dreadful sequence at Edgbaston — they have not won here since 1982 — is playing on their mind, for this was the first time in three years that they have been forced to follow on.
That is also testament to some fine bowling from Warwickshire. While individuals have occasionally produced stand-out displays, it is difficult to think of a better team bowling performance for some time.
Certainly the pitch is helpful. But Warwickshire have utilised it far better than their opponents, bowling straight and full and allowing the conditions to help them.
Dale Steyn has performed exactly the role for which he was signed: the capture of early wickets and the quick dismantling of the tail. It took only three balls for Richard Montgomerie to edge a beauty leaving him from off stump before Chris Nash, half forward, was beaten by a quicker one from Jimmy Anyon that appeared to keep a little low.
Though Murray Goodwin soon followed, prodding at one that left him, Chris Adams and Carl Hopkinson added 85, benefitting from the attacking fields, and appeared to have weathered the storm.
When Hopkinson nibbled at one that left him, however, it set in motion a remarkable collapse as Sussex lost their final seven wickets in only 13 overs for the addition of 52 runs.
Matt Prior was undone by one that kept low, Adams, off balance, prodded a return catch, before Robin Martin-Jenkins played horribly across a straight one.
Darren Maddy, producing his best first-class figures since July 2005, continued his superb start at Edgbaston. Although only gentle of pace, he swung the ball away and found surprising bounce off a length and a lovely yorker for Rana Naved. Steyn's pace was too hot for the tail.
Maddy had little hesitation in enforcing the follow-on. "We'd been in the field for only 40 overs and our lead was 240," he said. "We didn't ask Lancashire to follow on as we'd been in the field for 110 overs and our lead was 157; the situations are different.
"The pitch has eased and I'm still expecting to have to chase in the fourth innings."
Bowling proved harder work second time around. Though Montgomerie turned a straight delivery to square leg and Nash edged one that left him, Warwickshire may come to rue a couple of missed chances.
Hopkinson was dropped before he had scored and on six as edges eluded the slips. In company with the ominously secure Goodwin, he took toll of the lack of third man.
Sussex's struggles did serve to show how well Warwickshire had batted. Their total is far better than par on this pitch and the input of the lower order yesterday morning took their side to the brink of a fifth bonus point.
Steyn (31no) was entertaining in his bucolic way, but it was Tim Ambrose (72) who really impressed. Later on he also kept superbly. Standing up to the medium pacers, he produced a brave and almost faultless performance.
There may be better keeper-batsmen in England but Nixon and Prior are certainly not among them.