Middlesex lead Warwickshire by 206 runs with nine second-innings wickets in hand...
A dogged fightback from Warwickshire's lower order kept Warwickshire's head just above water on the second day of their Championship match against Middlesex.
Warwickshire still ended the day very much on the back foot, facing a daunting fourth innings target. But without the intervention of their lower order they could well have slipped to a second successive defeat in little more than two days. Where there is life there is hope.
But Warwickshire face a monumental battle to avoid defeat. Bearing in mind their recent batting form, it will be a rescue of almost miraculous proportions. The game against Glamorgan now takes on epic importance. The Champions are facing relegation.
That they have any hope at all in this match is largely due to the efforts of Dougie Brown. The Scot (161 balls, one six and nine fours) added 91 for the seventh-wicket with Luke Parker and 53 for the tenth with Dewald Pretorius, more than tripling the score from the moment he strutted to the crease.
They were runs gratefully received both by Brown and his team. The player has been in a grisly run of form with the bat, not progressing beyond 20 since April, and Warwickshire had appeared to be spiralling to a crushing defeat.
After an hour's play the visitors were reeling on 85 for six, with the follow-on mark of 174 seemingly out of reach. But adversity brings the best out in Brown and, as so many times before, he set about rebuilding for his beleaguered colleagues.
He was perhaps fortunate to settle in against the support bowlers. The exertions of the previous day had clearly taken it on Stuart Clark, while Mel Betts apart, the rest of the Middlesex attack is very ordinary indeed.
He began with pulls and cuts to the boundary off Peter Trego, but it was his defence that was most impressive. Rarely was the bat beaten, while it was noticeable that he also gave many words of encouragement to his 21-year-old partner.
Brown was reprieved once, on 31, when Clark made a terrible hash of a lofted drive and failed to lay a hand on the ball. But his batting became more fluent and it was a cut for four off the leftarm spin of Chris Peploe that took his side past the followon mark. It was not pretty, but it was effective.
Parker (102 balls, six fours) also impressed, just as he had against Nottinghamshire. He was beaten several times outside the off stump by Betts, but retained his composure and responded with some attractive shots through cover.
He was certainly not out of his depth at this level, while the quality of one back foot drive off Betts hinted at genuine pedigree. It will be interesting to see who misses out when Michael Powell returns to action. On current form, Parker must win selection ahead of Jim Troughton.
Though Parker eventually fell, driving without moving his feet, Pretorius continued his improved form with the bat. He put his higher order colleagues' effort in context with an untroubled innings, driving Paul Weekes for four back over the bowler's head and flicking boundaries off his legs against the seamers. Brown was the last man out, caught at long on, attempting a repeat of a six the previous ball.
Earlier Alex Loudon fell in the sixth over of the morning, playing away from his body and edging to slip. Tony Frost soon followed, caught down the legside as he gloved an attempted hook, but just as Middlesex's tail had shamed their colleagues, so did Warwickshire's.
From such a perilous position, Warwickshire would no doubt have settled for a deficit of just 51 runs on first innings. Yet this was the seventh time in ten Championship matches this season they have failed to score more than 310 in their first innings. Unless that is rectified they will go down.
Whatever door Brown and co. had eased open, Middlesex soon slammed it shut as their batsmen set about building upon their advantage.
Makhaya Ntini, tearing in from the Nursey End, soon induced an edge from Ed Smith, but further inroads were thwarted by an unbroken stand of 117 for the second wicket.
Owais Shah again looked in marvellous form, flicking Brown for an outrageous six from outside off stump, and easing Loudon for boundaries through the covers.
Ben Hutton also returned to form. It was hard to believe this was just his third Championship half-century of the season as he pulled Ntini for six and lent into some perfect off drives, and he has already passed his previous highest score in the competition this season.
The pitch remains flat and true, which does, at least, sustain some belief that Warwickshire may be able to hold out on the final day. That they have done it before is also some comfort, but that was almost in a different age, and their best hope of salvation lies in the mixed weather forecast for London. That the champions are reduced to that says much.