Gloucestershire trail Warwickshire by 179 runs with seven first-innings wickets in hand
Warwickshire's opening bowlers made amends for a limp display from their batsmen on a day when ball beat bat at Edgbaston.
A glance at the scoreboard might convince a casual observer that this pitch is a minefield. Not so. It is dry and slow, but there were no demons. It was a good toss for Warwickshire to win, but they squandered the opportunity. It will only deteriorate.
The pitch was last used on Wednesday for a totesport game, but all 13 wickets to fall were due to good bowling and poor batting. It offers assistance to the new ball but thereafter is flat and unforgiving. The first 40 minutes this morning will be crucial.
The accepted truth that Warwickshire are blessed with great strength in batting needs adjusting. Certainly they have great depth of talent in the area, but this was the ninth time they had failed to pass 275 in their first innings in the last 13 Championship games; a wholly inadequate record.
Warwickshire scored 208 yesterday and the challenge for the new coach - interviews for the position finish today - is to convert the undoubted talent into scores.
The return of Mark Wagh next season - knee permitting - will undoubtedly stiffen a fragile line-up, but the cricket committee will also consider signing an overseas batsman. Among the options are the likes of Graeme Smith, Adam Gilchrist, Brian Lara and Justin Langer, all of whom could also captain. It would be a shame to limit the chances of 'home-grown' players, but they simply haven't performed consistently enough this season.
Gloucestershire bowled especially well. Steve Kirby, pitching the ball up and maintaining a testing line and length, was consistently threatening, while Sri Lankan leg-spinner Malinga Bandara found turn.
Had it not been for Jim Troughton's 84, Warwickshire would have suffered a complete rout. His colleagues succumbed to some fine bowling, though none could claim complete innocence.
Ian Westwood edged one angled across him that he had to play at, before Ian Bell was drawn into an impatient drive against a ball too short for the stroke. Nick Knight, head nowhere near the pitch of the ball, was bowled off the inside edge for seemingly the thousandth time this season before Jonathan Trott left a good one that nipped back quite sharply. Alex Loudon was perhaps unfortunate, the umpires adjudging there was some bat in the ball that looped to gully off a prod forward.
Troughton (163 balls, 12 fours) is an infuriating, exasperating and wonderfully entertaining fellow. Clearly, he is blessed with great handeye co-ordination, yet he is also cursed by glaring technical flaws. Watching him is a joyful, yet wretched, experience. Anything could happen.
Here, he went after the bowling from the off, lacing a series of sweet drives through extra cover and point. True, batting was easier after the shine wore off the ball, but this was a fine innings. Troughton used his feet well to the spinners and swept hard but cleanly, ignoring Gloucestershire's policy of packing the point area.
Tony Frost (103 balls), in a run of low scores, proved a decent foil. Resisting the temptation to waft, he added 70 in 32 overs with Troughton before a cleverly disguised quicker ball induced an edge to slip and he went for 27.
Troughton fell without addition. Mark Hardinges deservedly had his man, courtesy of an outstanding slip catch, winning due reward for a sustained spell of tempting swing bowling just outside the off stump.
Neil Carter clipped his first ball for six but soon drove over the top of a perfect legspinner before Dougie Brown, trying to repeat a slog-swept six, heaved horribly to midoff. The stubborn Naqaash Tahir at least secured a point, but Warwickshire's total was probably 150 short of par.
Warwickshire hit back in the evening sunshine. Carter trapped a crease- bound Kadeer Ali with a beauty that swung back after a series of balls that went away, before the frugal Brown punished Craig Spearman's lack of foot movement by bringing one back to take the inside edge on to the stumps.
Carter, again bowling with impressive pace and hostility, took Matt Windows' outside edge which flew wide of Trott's right hand at first slip, resulting in an outstanding diving catch the equal of anything seen this summer. It is hard to quantify the importance of a fielder, but Trott's 29 catches in this Championship season could well have been the difference between survival and relegation. He is quite outstanding.
Carter, a revelation this season, will sign a new two-year deal with the club in the next few days. Despite attractive offers from Northants, Middlesex and Surrey, he will commit to spending the best years of his remaining career at Edgbaston.