Durham trail Warwickshire by 261 runs with seven first-innings wickets remaining
Why don't tail-enders play like they used to? It's a common complaint from cricket-watchers, who hark back to a romanticised past when the lower order thrashed around in entertaining fashion. They have a point. Useful though tail-end stands can be, they are often less than fascinating.
Tim Groenewald might claim, with some justification, that he is more than a tail-ender. Yet, batting at No 9 for Warwickshire yesterday, he produced a delightfully uncomplicated innin gs of 53 not out to snatch his side the initiative, just as it appeared the hosts were claiming the upper hand.
Groenewald (47 balls, 13 fours, two sixes) played the lead role in a swashbuckling ninth-wicket stand. With Paul Harris (14 not out) he added 91 in 11 overs of mayhem, thrashing bowling which had previously appeared unplayable out of the attack to ensure Warwickshire stole the initiative on a testing surface.
The 22-year-old has not previously showed much form with the bat. Yet, given a license to play his shots, he almost emulated the style of his old school colleague, Kevin Pietersen, as he raced to his 50 in just 34 balls.
Utilising the logic that an unplayable ball would come along sooner rather than later, he took the attack to the bowlers, hitting hard and straight. Twice he lofted seamer Calum Thorp for sixes, once a delightful on-drive, the other a pick-up over mid-wicket, while also carving and lofting the other seamers to distraction.
Though he finally fell, caught at third man as he aimed a thrash over cover, his innings had put his side on top and left a previously upbeat Durham visibly rattled.
"We were up against it at 188 for six but our final total is probably worth 450," captain Heath Streak admitted later. "Tim showed he has a great eye and took the fight to them in great style."
If Groenewald was all about bucolic aggression, Moeen Ali was about culture and class. The unsettled teenager showed a welcome ability to put off-field distractions out of his mind as he equalled his Championship best.
Unlike previous innings, Moeen could not simply stroke the ball around. Here, he was forced to show his patience, leaving the ball with maturity outside off-stump but still choosing which ball to attack.
His drives through cover, off front and back foot, bore the hallmark of true class, while Graham Onions' attempts to intimidate him with short balls were met with the contemptuous pulls and hooks they deserved.
Pitch inspector Mike Denness will not report the track to the ECB. He accepted it provided copious assistance, explaining that it retained moisture after becoming wet during a second XI match last week.
That would suggest that batting will become easier, though both teams believe it will be a low-scoring encounter. Unless the weather intervenes, a positive result in inevitable.
There was, then, some mitigation for Warwickshire's middle-order to fail again. Batting was desperately hard work and their total should prove to be at least 50 better than par.
On a pitch providing copious assistance to the bowlers, batsmen of both sides struggled all day. Warwickshire, who later admitted they too would have inserted, battled hard for the first 40 minutes but Thorp's first ball, a beauty that seamed in, trapped Mark Wagh on the back leg.
Nick Knight grafted for 104 balls but never looked comfortable, finally slicing a drive to gully, while Moeen's resistance (112 balls, nine fours) was ended when he drove at one that left him.
Jonathan Trott's problem is simply a failure to move his feet. His dismissal yesterday was a carbon copy of the first innings at Southampton; playing-on off the inside edge after driving at a wide ball without foot movement.
Tim Ambrose's attempt to drive on the up resulted in an edge to the slips while the forlorn Alex Loudon did not benefit from being demoted a place in the batting order. Though he battled for 55 balls, his departure, leaving one that hit off stump, was hard to fathom.
Though Dougie Brown and Streak produced a few fine shots, the former was beaten by one that nipped away and the latter by one that reared and left him. Moeen and Groenewald apart, there was little substance in the batting.
Lee Daggett struck with his first over back in the side - Jimmy Maher flashing to gully - but Warwickshire did not fully utilise the new ball.
Streak again seemed inconvenienced by bowling to a left-hand right-hand opening pair and it took the return of Brown, bowling with four slips and a gully, to dismiss Gordon Muchall, playing across a straight one.
Then, in the last over of the day, Harris found surprising turn and provoked an involuntary prod from nightwatchman Neil Killeen. Knight, at gully, dived low to his right to take another outstanding catch. n Stephen Fleming and David Hussey scored centuries against Kent at Trent Bridge as outgoing champions Nottinghamshire reached 381 for five in their battle against relegation. The hosts were 61 for three before New Zealand skipper Fleming struck 101. Hussey, the Australian, is 156 not out.