Edgbaston (day three) Warwickshire 433-8 dec (T R Ambrose 156 no, N M Carter 84, I J L Trott 82) v Leicestershire 125-1 (H D Ackerman 82)
If there was any doubt about the identity of England's wicketkeeper ahead of the Test series against New Zealand, Tim Ambrose ended it on Thursday with a century of the highest class.
Ambrose has the habit, peculiar to the best batsmen, of making it look as if the bowling is poor. Until mid-afternoon, when Leicestershire became dispirited in the face of a sustained assault, that was not so. Yet so exceptional is Ambrose's cut shot that it allows the bowler little margin for error and any attempt to compensate is punished by a booming drive. It's a highly effective combination.
Ambrose (233 balls, 22 fours) scored 156 not out, the second-highest score of his career and, in partnership with Neil Carter's 84 (92 balls, seven fours and two sixes) added a record 157 in only 28 overs for the eighth wicket to earn Warwickshire a dominant position.
Realistic hopes of winning the match have probably gone, however. A series of missed chances, combined with the amount of time lost to rain, has effectively rendered a draw the only possible result. Unless, of course, both captains agree a couple of imaginative declarations.
"We did think we could bowl them out twice," Warwickshire's Darren Maddy said last night. "Those missed chances have probably cost us, but we will see if they're interested in a chase."
Still, this was a highly-encouraging performance from Warwickshire. For a start, this was the first time their batsmen had taken full bonus points since August 9. In the six championship games between, they had not exceeded 285 in the first innings.
Furthermore, in Monde Zondeki, this team possesses the cutting edge it has been lacking. He does not yet generate the swing of Dale Steyn, or the seam movement of Shaun Pollock, but his pace is unusual and, if Warwickshire's slip fielders can adjust, he should take wickets aplenty.
That Warwickshire could even contemplate a second-innings declaration is largely due to Ambrose. His sixth first-class century was a chanceless affair, though he was missed at slip off the spin of Claude Henderson on 112.
It is a year ago to the day since Ambrose began the game that played a major role in his development. For it was on May 2, 2007, that he proved to himself once and for all what a good batsman he was by making an unbeaten 251 against Worcestershire at New Road. It was a run of form that led to England selection and a series-turning century in only his second Test.
"Both those innings were very important," he said last night. "They were things I hadn't done before. However much you tell yourself you can do something, there's nothing can replace the experience of actually doing it. Those two innings really proved something to me.
"It helps to start well in international cricket. New Zealand didn't know much about me so they gave me a bit more width than they should have done. I'm strong square of the wicket, so I was able to capitalise.
"When I was at Sussex, I used to talk to Murray Goodwin about batting. He cuts well and, by transferring his weight so well, can cut so many balls that it gives the bowler no margin for error."
There were suggestions from some during the winter that Ambrose was just another batsman who had donned the gloves in order to gain a Test place. It is not so. He has always been a 'keeper first and foremost, but just happens to bat as well as a specialist.
Recently hailed as the 'new Alan Knott' by Dermot Reeve, Ambrose could make the England position his own for a decade. "I don't know where those stories came from that I was a batsman," Ambrose said. "I almost started to believe them myself, until my mum reminded me that I 'kept in the very first game I played.
"I guess because I've been good enough to play as a batter, people presume you can't really 'keep but I was actually most pleased with the way I caught in New Zealand. I was very happy with that."
Carter was almost as impressive in recording his first first-class 50 since June 2005. Showing admirable shot selection, he was murderous on anything short and also swept several perfectly respectable deliveries over the boundary. After surviving a sharp chance to slip on 49, a century looked to be his for the taking until a pull shot looped to backward square leg.
It was an important partnership. When the pair came together it looked as though Warwickshire may struggle to score 300. Ant Botha never settled and soon flashed to slip before Ian Salisbury played on after one delivery seemed to keep a little low.
Spare a thought for Jonathan Trott, Ian Westwood and Ian Bell, too. They missed out on the big scores but built the foundations for later batsmen by seeing off the bowling, and the pitch, when they were at their most onerous.
Trott (179 balls, seven fours), in particular, could feel well-satisfied with his patient innings. Personal milestones are often viewed with disproportionate importance in cricket and the fact that it is now almost two years (May 26, 2005) since he scored a championship century clearly weighs heavy on his mind. But this was a fine innings that paved the way for much of what followed. It took a good delivery, nipping away, to dismiss him.
In reply Tom New soon miscued to point but too many chances went down for Warwickshire to apply any pressure.
Matt Boyce, a well-organised left-hander who has developed through the Leicestershire system, edged one angled across him but Salisbury, at third slip, missed the chance. Hylton Ackerman then edged Neil Carter just in front of Maddy at second and survived an easier chance, again to Salisbury, off James Anyon when he had 48