Warwickshire need another 251 runs to avoid an innings defeat by Nottinghamshire
Warwickshire's dream of retaining the Championship title hangs by a thread this morning as they battle for an all but hopeless cause against Nottinghamshire.
Requiring another 251 runs simply to make their rivals bat again, it will take a miracle to save this match during the next two days. The teams that began the match in equal third place are surely heading in opposing directions.
To make matters worse for Warwickshire, their captain, Nick Knight, missed the whole day's play with a hand injury. He received the blow when fielding at extra cover on Sunday night and went to hospital for an X-ray yesterday.
Results are inconclusive but a fracture is feared. He will undergo a fitness test this morning but cannot bat before seven (having been off the field for the day) and may well play no further part in the match. He must also be a concern for Saturday's Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy semi-final against Lancashire at Edgbaston.
Warwickshire were run ragged by Notts' batsmen. A career-best innings by David Hussey - the highest score by a Notts player in fixtures between the counties - laid the foundations for the hosts' formidable total while some robust striking by the tail broke the spirit of the champions.
Warwickshire have been on the back foot since the start of the match. In retrospect, it might have been a good toss to lose but Notts' captain, Jason Gallian, said he would also have batted.
The real problem has been Warwickshire's batting. On flat pitches such as Colwyn Bay and Lord's they have prospered. But when conditions command more circumspection technical frailties let them down. Their inability to regularly post imposing firstinnings totals - this was the eighth time in 12 they have failed to reach 310 - is what will cost them their title.
Although the persevering Dougie Brown induced Chris Read to nick to slip in only the ninth over of the day, the damage was done. By then Read (101 deliveries, 13 fours and two sixes) and Hussey (298 deliveries, 22 fours and six sixes) had extended their overnight partnership to 148 in 33 overs.
When the pair came together, at 75 for four, Warwickshire were right in the contest; by the time they were separated the die was cast.
Hussey's professionalism should be an example to Warwickshire. When the match had to be shaped he buckled down, eschewing all risk, all superfluous shots and all flourish, to concentrate on the serious business of crease occupation.
Yet when the time came to accelerate he was murderous. His first 100 runs occupied 192 balls (with nine boundaries), his next 132 a mere 106, including six sixes and a further 13 fours. That he exceeded 1,000 runs for the season during the innings is also worth noting; none of Warwickshire's batsmen are within 350 of the milestone.
While Neil Carter and Brown were bowling Warwickshire kept some control. After the early life on the first day, the pitch has settled down into an easy-paced one, ideal for batting, and the lack of bite and variety in the attack became marked.
The rest of the bowling struggled to retain any control. Makhaya Ntini, on slow English wickets, lacks the effectiveness he has on hard international ones.
The inexperienced James Anyon and Alex Loudon lacked the control for such an unforgiving pitch, both proving unable to fulfil the holding role their team required. One Loudon over cost 20 as Hussey hit out while the ease with which Graeme Swann pull Ntini away for successive sixes was disturbing.
Stand-in captain Brown was obliged to bowl himself and Carter far more than was ideal. Their figures suffered but their efforts could not be faulted.
That Brown emerged with the 20th five-wicket haul of his career (and his first of the season) says as much about his colleagues as it does about him. He may well be the slowest new-ball bowler in county cricket these days but he remains Warwickshire's finest and is continually required to cover for his teammates. What they will do when he retires is a mystery. And a concern.
With their Championship hopes slipping through their fingers, Warwickshire's frustration became clear - and audible. Carter unleashed great bellows of angst that reverberated around this magnificent ground, as first Swann (two fours and two sixes) added 108 for the seventh wicket and then Andy Harris (four fours) 54 for the tenth.
Beginning their second innings with a deficit of 358, Warwickshire's batsmen were soon struggling against a fine attack.
Ian Westwood played on to one that nipped back off the seam before Jonathan Trott was well caught by the keeper as he nibbled at one angled across him. It was a good ball from the left-arm seamer Greg Smith, one he had to play, but Trott must overcome such deliveries if he is to progress.
Luke Parker, promoted in Knight's absence, survived a simple chance to first slip on 11 and lived dangerously in the gully region but appeared unruffled until a peach of an off- spinner from Swann dipped and turned to nip between bat and pad.
Jim Troughton got off the mark with a flashed four through gully while Loudon also played some remarkably positive shots given the circumstances. Neither hinted that they would still be batting tonight, however.