Grace Road (final day): Leicestershire (432, 12pts) drew with Warwickshire (267 & 169-3, 8pts)
Michael Powell produced a performance of determination and character to save Warwickshire from defeat on the fourth and final day at Grace Road.
It was, in truth, an ugly innings. Barely any of the 213 balls he faced were well-timed and there were occasions when his legs and bat operated so independently that he resembled a marionette.
Yet, in its own way, it was quite magnificent. It was a triumph of mind over matter, of style over substance and of pure bloody stubbornness over form or the opposition. It was, in short, vintage Michael Powell.
Suffering from a chest infection and enduring a run of form so grim that his first-team place - and career - appeared to be hanging by a thread, Powell responded with a performance of character, grit and courage.
Coming to the crease as early as the second over of the morning, he batted all day and salvaged a draw for his under-strength and out-of-sorts side. It could prove to be a crucial chapter in Warwickshire’s promotion campaign.
Some might have found the last day dull. Certainly there were few pleasing shots to savour - 35 of the 81 overs in the visitors’ second innings were maidens and only 150 runs were scored on the day - as the dead pitch and match situation conspired to hinder adventure.
This was an absorbing battle, however. Garnett Kruger bowled with pace and persuaded a couple of balls to rear or keep low but Nadeem Malik remained the pick of the bowlers and, in a superb post-lunch spell, looked as if he might dismiss Powell with every delivery he bowled. Indeed, such a fine display was it that umpire Barry Dudleston rated it as the best he has seen in Division Two this season.
Warwickshire were in some trouble when Jim Troughton (102 balls, five fours) and Powell (nine fours) came together. Obliged to follow on for the first time this season, they still required 68 to avoid an innings defeat after Darren Maddy was beaten by one which kept low, Navdeep Poonia was adjudged leg-before and Jonathan Trott edged the only delivery of the day that turned sharply.
Had Troughton, on 30, been caught by HD Ackerman at slip off Tom Smith, Leicestershire might have been less willing to settle for the draw. As it was they agreed to shake hands at 4.50pm; only one over after taking the new ball and with their visitors, in effect, four for three. It is unthinkable that Warwickshire would let a side off the hook so easily.
Not that there was anything easy about Powell’s innings. With much at stake and the odds against him, he resisted everything that was thrown at him.
Very few of his runs came in front of square and there was a period of more than half an hour when he was stranded on 35 that it appeared his dismissal would represent a mercy killing. Yet he kept his composure, fought and survived.
His first innings ‘duck’ - his third of the season - left him on the brink of the abyss, but this performance - his second half-century in 15 championships innings this season - may just have extended his career.
Most importantly of all, he prevented his side from slipping to the defeat that would have dented their promotion hopes. Warwickshire remain the only unbeaten side in either division of the championship and, with a match in hand, lie only 15 points behind Worcestershire, the leaders of the division.
It still wasn’t the best of matches for Warwickshire. They earned only eight points - the least in any match this summer - and their batting, bowling and fielding will all have to improve if they are to secure promotion. Chris Woakes, Ian Westwood and Chris Martin are likely to return for the championship match against Northamptonshire, at Edgbaston starting on Thursday, but they surely require reinforcements if they are to flourish in Division One.
Whether Ashley Giles, the director of cricket, continues to select Powell remains to be seen. Poonia would appear to be the other man whose place is in jeopardy but he was most unfortunate to be adjudged leg-before on Saturday to a delivery he clearly hit and might be viewed as the better long-term bet. Both players are out of contract next month but Poonia is the more likely to be on the playing staff in April.
“The way I’ve played, I’ve not deserved a place in the side,” Powell said after Saturday’s innings. “I’ve put myself under a lot of pressure by my performances and I know that I have to score more runs.
“Hopefully that innings proved that I can still compete and that I’m still up for the fight.
“It could have been my last innings for the club - might still be - so it was really important that I showed that I can still do a job. I’d have hated to go out on a loss and having failed. At least if that is it for me, I’ve helped save the game for Warwickshire.
“Really, it’s about proving it to myself as much as anyone. My confidence was low, very low, and I needed to show myself that I could still do it. I’ve not been able to bat for more than two or three overs in recent games so to walk off at the end, having survived all da, is very pleasing.
“I felt awful out there. At the start of the season, my form felt brilliant but I couldn’t make the big scores, whereas today I felt my chest was going to explode and I just wasn’t timing the ball.
“But, looking back over my career, I think I’ve always been at my best when the chips are down. There were times when I didn’t score a run for 35 minutes but I just ignored the scoreboard and dug in.
“That’s what today was all about. We didn’t bat well in the first innings. We threw half our wickets away and were in a position where we couldn’t win.
“But the one thing we’ve talked about is becoming a team that is really hard to beat. The stats suggest that the teams which remain unbeaten are the teams which are promoted, so if we can stay that way through the rest of the season, we’ve given ourselves a great chance. In the end, it’s all about getting back up to the first division”