Surrey trail Warwickshire by 68 runs with nine second-innings wickets in hand
If any one wished for an example of team unity prevailing over individual flair it could be found at Edgbaston.
Surrey, boasting seven internationals, have been comprehensively outplayed by a Warwickshire team that looks exhausted and has lost five of its last seven games.
It would be wrong to claim the Bears have played exceptional cricket. Yet they've looked a class above their opposition and have a good chance of claiming an eighth County Championship win of the season today. The rain that washed out the opening day may yet thwart them. But Surrey will have to summon some backbone if they are to escape relegation.
Surrey will, no doubt, continue to swagger in the Second Division. Yet there's little reason for their self satisfaction. Blessed with great individual talent, it combines to create far less than the sum of its parts. They squabble on the pitch and field as poorly as any side in the division. But their sloppiness is best exemplified by a tardy overrate which threatens to incur a penalty. When every point is precious, such carelessness is crass.
As so often, Warwickshire's success was built on foundations laid by captain Nick Knight's innings of 117 (176 balls, 13 fours). In all competitions, Knight has made three centuries in five innings, yet is still not at his best. Ali Brown dropped a regulation chance at second slip when the batsman had just nine and followed one outside his off-stump from Mohammad Akram.
Ian Westwood was the more impressive of the opening pair. Solid in defence, he waits patiently for the bad ball. Surrey didn't make him wait for long and Westwood cut hard and drove beautifully.
Jade Dernbach, in just his fourth first-class game, made the breakthrough. Westwood was bamboozled by a swinging full toss before Jonathan Trott and Jim Troughton played across straight deliveries.
Alex Loudon also took time to settle. He, too, was dropped off Akram at second slip during a scratchy start, but eventually began to unveil those familiar cover drives en route to his first half-century in eight Championship innings.
With his captain, he added 100 in 25 overs. Knight, benefiting from some over-pitched bowling, at last began to drive fluently. This was his 27th first- class century for Warwickshire and his 38th in all. He requires seven more runs to become the first Warwickshire man to 1,000 Championship runs this summer.
Knight finally nibbled at one outside off to start a slide that saw six wickets fall for just 59 runs; and it was far from the first time the middle-order has collapsed.
Loudon dragged on his sweep at a ball well outside off and both Saqlain Mushtaq and Azhar found themselves on hat-tricks as four wickets fell for 15 runs. Tony Frost lamely turned one to short leg and Dougie Brown feathered a catch down the leg side before Neil Carter steered to point and Makhaya Ntini edged his first ball slash.
Michael Powell ensured the advantage was not squandered. Left with only James Anyon for company, he upped the tempo sensibly, driving two straight sixes, one an outrageous effort off Azhar. Anyon contributed just one to their last-wicket 32-run stand, but the 113-run lead could be priceless. With Scott Newman perishing to a loose cut moments before the close, Surrey have nothing but the draw to play for.
Earlier, it took just 11 deliveries to wrap up the Surrey innings, with Saqlain edging a heave to present Anyon with a well-deserved fourth wicket.
Warwickshire are now assured of their top division status. Bearing in mind the absentees and losses of form they've suffered, that's no mean feat. Reinforcements may be required if next season is to end so happily.
It's possible that Warwickshire could still retain their title. To do so, however, they require results elsewhere to oblige. It's most unlikely.
That means the balance of their season hangs on the totesport League. Unfortunately they'll have to secure promotion with little help from their three Test players. The ECB insist that Ashley Giles will be rested for the remainder of the season while Ian Bell, hardly exhausted from his exertions at The Oval, will not play this week. He misses two League games. By contrast, Shane Warne and Simon Katich will play for Hampshire tonight.
Meanwhile, Warwickshire "reluctantly" confirmed that Ntini will fly to South Africa tonight. They said it was " bitterly disappointing" news.
Relations between the United Cricket Board of South Africa, their governing body, and Warwickshire have deteriorated. It will be a major surprise if Ntini represents Warwickshire again. He is said to be leaving the ground at 6pm to catch a 9pm flight from Heathrow; clearly he has a fast car.
"Strong representations have been made to the UCB," said Warwickshire in a statement. "Formal approval had previously been granted for Makhaya to play until the end of September. It is therefore bitterly disappointing to lose his services for the crucially important last few games."