LV COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP - Division One: Warwickshire 285 (M J Powell 82, J O Troughton 76) v Surrey 344-8 (M R Ramprakash 175)
Much has gone wrong at Edgbaston this season. Whether it is the lack of penetrative bowlers or the frequency of the batting collapses that have been more costly is a moot point.
But if Warwickshire do suffer championship relegation for the first time in a couple of weeks, they will surely rue the dropped chance that reprieved Mark Ramprakash shortly after lunch on Friday as a key moment.
Surrey were 142 for three at the time, Ramprakash having scored 104 of them. So when he mis-timed a pull off the deserving Neil Carter and the ball ballooned up to mid-on, it appeared that Warwickshire would take a firm grip on this match.
Yet Alfonso Thomas somehow managed to drop as easy a chance as he will ever be offered, allowing Ramprakash to survive and Surrey to build a first-innings lead.
The expressions on the fieldsmen's faces told the story. While Carter stood aghast, Thomas lay with his head buried in his hands for some time. It really was an inexplicable misjudgment.
The next time Ramprakash offered a chance, Jonathan Trott dived forward at slip to take an outstanding catch. The damage may have been done, however. Ramprakash had added 71 and Surrey 160 runs. Yet Warwickshire are not out of this match. Surrey's lead is, at present, relatively slender and their lack of a top-class spinner means that there is all to play for going into the final two days of championship cricket at Edgbaston this season.
If Warwickshire can score 300 in their second innings they will give their new left-arm spinner, Ant Botha, a chance to make the perfect start to his career at Edgbaston. The pitch is already providing some turn.
Surrey were certainly made to work hard for their runs yesterday. Warwickshire's bowlers produced as good a performance as at any time since the wins against Worcestershire and Sussex and, Ramprakash apart, were on top for most of the day.
Sometimes in sport, however, you just have to marvel at greatness. For Ramprakash (336 balls, 24 fours and two sixes) is firmly in that category, at this level at least. On a pitch on which all his colleagues struggled, he compiled the 95th first-class century of his career, his eighth of the season and his eighth against Warwickshire. Quite how the England set-up of a few years ago managed to squander the ability of one so gifted is one of the great mysteries — and shames — of our time.
Ramprakash was forced to be circumspect at first yesterday. Thomas, Carter and Jimmy Anyon all maintained an immaculate line and length, benefitting from the bounce in the pitch and a little lateral movement.
Only the introduction of young Chris Woakes released the pressure. The 18-year-old may well have an exciting future at this level but this was a tough baptism. He soon learnt how small his margin of error will be in such encounters, being cut to the boundary when he dropped fractionally short, while the ferocious drive that Ramprakash drilled through the covers will live long in the memory.
Surrey scored only 93 in the first session, losing Jonathan Batty to a slip catch after he fenced at a fine delivery that bounced and left him, while Anyon found the edge of Ramprakash's bat only to see the ball bounce well in front of the wicketkeeper.
Progress was no quicker when Mark Butcher joined Ramprakash. The former England captain laboured for an hour-and-a-half before playing on to one that nipped back from Carter, before Stewart Walters simply left a straight delivery.
Through it all, however, Ramprakash progressed serenely. When Anyon dropped short he was quick to pull him for six while the elegance and ease with which he leant into drives was testament of his class.
In James Benning he found the ally he required. Surviving a nervous start, Benning bludgeoned a muscular 44 from 40 balls, with eight fours and a top-edged six off the unfortunate Carter. Indeed Carter will have had cause to reflect on what a cruel game it can be as he was plundered for 29 runs off four overs after his previous 19 had cost only 34.
Just as it seemed Surrey were taking the match away from Warwickshire, however, the hosts struck back. Thomas found some movement to induce an edge from Benning before Ramprakash was defeated by one that turned and bounced from the admirable Botha.
Chris Jordan edged his drive at a wide ball but Matt Nicholson thumped four boundaries in one Woakes over to take his side to the brink of a fourth batting point. Though Botha defeated his sweep shot moments before the close, Warwickshire would dearly love the extra bowling point they will garner if they are able to take a wicket in the first couple of overs this morning. In such a tight division, it could prove crucial.