Warwickshire beat Middlesex by seven wickets
It was surely fitting that Ian Bell should hit the winning runs against Middlesex.
Bell's 288 unbeaten runs in the game were the difference between the sides on a pitch where nobody else looked comfortable. His aggregate of 480 runs this April overtakes Graeme Hick's county record of 410, set in 1988. There are some very fine batsmen in this Warwickshire side but Bell is a class above.
So, Warwickshire top the table. They are 20 points clear - albeit having played a game more than most of their rivals - and, bearing in mind that five victories was enough to lift the title last year, have begun their defence superbly. Even taking the most pessimistic of views, the team is well on the way to avoiding relegation.
There may be trouble ahead, however. The two main architects of this victory are surely destined to depart on England duty and their departures will leave enormous holes.
None of the England selectors saw this game. They went to Bristol, they went to Worcester and they met just outside Birmingham; but they didn't see Bell bat. Had they done so, his future would be assured.
Bell should, of course, have gone to South Africa. England will learn little from him playing against Bangladesh and he will face a daunting step up in class if and when he faces Australia. He is, however, the best batsman in England at present and his country needs him.
Nick Knight is not so sure. "I don't think it would do 'Belly' any harm to spend another season scoring runs for Warwickshire," said the Warwickshire captain.
"If he was chosen now, I think he'd do pretty well. He's a good player in peak form but he's still young and he's still learning. In the long term, his development might be better if he had another season in county cricket."
Knight's views on Bell could be dismissed as self-interest; a man keen to retain his prized resource. But that would be to underestimate Warwickshire's captain. His views are certainly worth attention.
Bell's loss, large though it may be, is less damaging than that of Ashley Giles. There are, at least, several fine batsmen waiting in the wings. Mark Wagh should be back by the end of the month, while Ian Westwood and Jim Troughton are both performing well in the seconds and more than worthy of a place in the first team.
But there is no replacing Giles. This was his third five-wicket haul of the season, his 20th in all for Warwickshire and the 26th of his first-class career. His 24 wickets (at 17 apiece) so far this season are thought to be the most ever achieved in an English April. Nobody else in the side has managed more than seven wickets in the Championship. His absence leaves a chasm at the heart of the side.
Heath Streak remains worryingly lacking in penetration, too. He cannot be faulted for effort but appears, for the moment, to lack the nip that made him such a world-class bowler.
Yet there is plenty of room for optimism. Dewald Pretorius bowled well in the first innings here and Alex Loudon improves with every outing. Naqaash Tahir is also back bowling again and, having pledged his future to the Bears, will soon be knocking on the first-team door again. Wagh and Troughton will also nip in with wickets.
And under Knight's captaincy, Warwickshire have developed the skill of turning tight situations in their favour. Knight is a winner and his know-how is rubbing off on his team.
This was typified by the opening session on the final day here. The visitors were just five runs ahead with three wickets down but, with showers threatening the ground, the lead creeping upwards and overs running out, time was not on Warwickshire's side.
Middlesex's batsmen, Owais Shah and Ed Joyce, looked completely untroubled against the seamers and dealt well enough with Giles. But Knight kept his men focused and, in the 11th over of the day, Giles made the breakthrough.
Shah, having passed 50, attempted an ugly upright sweep which left him unable to deal with the quicker ball which uprooted his leg stump.
It perhaps sums up the difference between Shah and Bell. They are not far apart in terms of natural talent, but Shah invariably leaves the job half-done, while Bell goes the extra mile.
Scott Styris and Paul Weekes soon departed, pop-ping sharp bat-pad chances to Michael Powell at silly midoff. It was noticeable that Dougie Brown was given first crack with the new ball. Time has, inevitably, taken its toll on his bowling and his pace is greatly reduced but, in his 36th year, he was the pick of the seamers and not for the first time this summer.
Here, he struck with just the fifth delivery with the new ball, exploiting the uneven surface to make one rear on Ben Scott and take the glove on the way to Tony Frost, who kept very well indeed in this game.
But perhaps Brown's great-est contribution was still to come. Giles, out of the attack for just two overs as the new ball was taken, struck with his first ball back.
Joyce, by far the best of the Middlesex batsmen, shaped to pull a short ball, but failed to connect fully. The ball flew, fast and low, behind square on the leg side. It was barely a chance. But Brown, flinging himself to his left, somehow held on to a catch described by his captain as "bloody exceptional."
"Things like that can be forgotten," Knight said afterwards. "But it was another team performance."
Warwickshire, requiring 115 to win in 47 overs, lost Powell early, beaten for pace. And though Knight prodded a return catch and Jonathan Trott, enduring a barren spell, inside edged a decent inswinger, Bell stood firm.
His footwork against the spin was a delight, his treat-ment of the seamers wonderful. Over the past year he has started to fulfil the extravagant predictions made of him as a teenager. The selectors cannot ignore him.