Warwickshire drew with Surrey

Judging by the vast banks of empty seats around Edgbaston, cricket's new fans were coping with the 'cold turkey' of the end of the Ashes series.

Perhaps it is just as well that few would-be spectators were lured here yesterday. One high-class innings apart, this was a lame day's cricket which ended in farce. It bore little comparison with the drama of the Test series.

The result ended any hopes Warwickshire may have had of retaining their Championship title, though realistic aspirations died after the defeat in Southampton. They are, at least, assured of Division One survival.

That means that Surrey and Middlesex will contest the final relegation position. The two sides meet at The Oval next week with Surrey currently 15 points in arrears. They are overwhelming favourites to go down.

That Warwickshire could not win this game owes much to two factors: the batting of Mark Ramprakash and fallible catching.

Ramprakash was excellent. The 78th century of his first-class career - and fifth of the season - featured immaculate defence, impeccable judgment and admirable concentration. It is hard to think of an Englishman in county cricket with a better defensive technique, particularly when leaving the ball, while the crispness of his drives remains a delight.

His partners were less impressive. With Mark Butcher falling early, prodding a catch to silly point, Surrey appeared unable to decide whether to attack and set up a declaration, or defend and secure the draw.

Saqlain Mushtaq and Rikki Clarke chose the former. Saqlain soon thrashed one to extra-cover but Clarke stroked six boundaries in a 55-ball stay before flicking to mid-wicket.

At that stage, a Warwickshire victory was still possible. Crucially, however, Jon Batty was dropped three times in his first 25 deliveries before making 76. Makhaya Ntini was the unfortunate bowler on each occasion as first Tony Frost (before the batsman had scored) dropped a low chance to his right. Jim Troughton then floored a tough chance at point before Jonathan Trott, a wonderfully reliable catcher, missed a regulation chance at slip. Batty (147 balls, three sixes and seven fours) survived, and eventually prospered.

Ramprakash (236 balls, 15 fours and a six) was finally out for 126, tickling a catch down the leg side, but the game was long since saved. A class act, he passed 1,000 first-class runs at Edgbaston in the early stages of the innings.

The dismissal precipitated the declaration, but not with a view to forcing a result - Warwickshire's target of 201 from 14 overs was hardly reasonable - but so Surrey could improve their over-rate to escape a points penalty.

Ali Brown and Clarke therefore delivered 11 overs of slow bowling in under 30 minutes in front of a bemused audience. That such a talented team should be reduced to foraging for such crumbs says much about their current impoverished state.

At least Nick Knight took the opportunity to score the seven he required for 1,000 Championship runs in the season; a fine effort for a man who has never been in the best of form.

Ntini departed at tea. Certainly, Edgbaston will be a much quieter place in his absence for his relentless vocal encouragement - much of it unintelligible - appeared to reach new levels yesterday.

Impressive at times, Ntini found the slow wickets of county cricket far from helpful and finished with a moderate record of 22 wickets in six games at 32.77 apiece.

It was noticeable that he reserved his best for big occasions such as the semi-final and final of the C&G Trophy and he expressed surprise at hard labour that is a county cricketer's lot.

Both club and player have expressed the hope of working together again, but more in politeness than expectation, like work colleagues who promise to stay in touch but don't exchange phone numbers.

It is unlikely that the club will sign a short-term replacement. Initial enquiries to the Australian squad drew a blank and other overseas players are reluctant to sign up for little more than a week.

There are still matters of some importance to be decided, however. While next week's Championship game against Gloucestershire is all but dead, promotion in the totesport League is far from certain. It is a necessity that it is secured for this season to be considered a success.

Selection for today's floodlit match against Surrey will focus on fitness. Naqaash Tahir is likely to replace Ntini, with Trevor Penney replacing Ian Westwood.

WARWICKSHIRE: Carter N, Knight N*, Trott J, Troughton J, Loudon A, Penney T, Powell M, Brown D, Frost T+, Naqaash Tahir, Anyon J, Westwood I.