Everything is set for a nail-biting finish to the Championship season. With Lancashire having scraped home by one wicket against Hampshire, they currently top the Division One table. But Warwickshire are 157 ahead of Somerset, with 9 wickets in hand, so are well poised to press forward for a declaration that will give them time to bowl Somerset out and claim the title. On an increasingly docile pitch, that won’t be easy. But there is no doubt that they are up for the challenge.
For two out of three sessions today, Warwickshire toiled to take the last five Somerset first innings wickets. They needed to take four of them in 110 overs to claim what looked at the time to be a vital final bowling bonus point. As it happens, their failure to do so proved irrelevant with Lancashire’s win at Aigburth. All that matters now is whether Warwickshire can coax a win out of that easy-paced surface, which may depend on how interested Somerset are in going for a win rather than batting out a draw.
It was in the final session of play that the match caught light. Facing a deficit of 22, Dom Sibley and Rob Yates put together the Bears’ first century opening partnership of the season. Sibley scored a sparkling (yes, England fans, you did read that correctly) fifty that included two sixes whilst Yates struck nine fours in an unbeaten 72.
But it was when he was joined by skipper Will Rhodes that the foot really went down onto the accelerator. The two of them have so far added 60 runs off just 46 balls. Rhodes has scored 42 off 29 balls and struck three sixes. His opposite number Tom Abell has conceded 42 runs in five overs.
All of this was in contrast to the slow progress that Warwickshire made in the field. Overall, the last five Somerset wickets, yesterday evening and today, added 202 runs.
The day began well enough for the Bears. Steven Davies fell to Tim Bresnan in the first over. But then life got more difficult. The arrival of the new ball after three overs achieved little. Chris Woakes and Liam Norwell caused the odd alarm but were hardly at their best. It took the return of Bresnan to achieve the breakthrough when he trapped Craig Overton lbw.
Lewis Gregory, playing in this match just as a batsman and having supplanted James Hildreth in the team, had a point to prove. And when it comes to being stubborn and refusing to give in, there are few to beat Jack Leach. He and Gregory pieced together a 50 partnership. There was a fair bit of playing and missing but also plenty of stern defence mixed with judicious strokeplay.
It was at this stage of the day that it became clear that this had become a pitch on which survival was not too difficult. Lateral movement was hardly in evidence and the September sunshine seemed to have sucked some of the pace out of the surface.
Gregory and Leach almost made it to lunch but Chris Woakes managed to strike in the last over before the interval, dismissing Gregory for a worthy 68.
After the interval, Leach continued to cling on like one of those segmented worms that are his near namesake. And so the 110th over came and went and still that ninth wicket eluded the Bears.
Gradually, as events at Aigburth unfolded, other issues began to come to the fore. Could Somerset achieve a first innings lead? Yes, they could. It seemed somehow appropriate that it was a no ball from spinner Matt Lamb that took Somerset into the lead. When you are not brought on to bowl until the 129th over of the innings, it is a sign of the somewhat limited confidence your captain has in you; and Lamb did little to change Will Rhodes’ opinion.
Eventually, Warwickshire did winkle out those last wickets, Leach falling one short of what would have been a well-earned fifty and Josh Davey giving Chris Woakes a third wicket just after he had conceded his 100th run in his 31st over – probably a few more overs than his bosses at the ECB would have liked to see from him.
Now the only remaining question is: can Warwickshire set Somerset a target and bowl them out?
We shall find out tomorrow.