By 3.45 on an eventful third day, Warwickshire achieved a win over Essex that at one stage looked inevitable but then became problematic before they squeaked home by four wickets.
Set only 100 to win, the Bears made hard work of the task, thanks mainly to some steady and consistent Essex bowling on a pitch that still gave some movement even in the afternoon sunshine that followed a grey morning.
Warwickshire owed much to their pace bowlers, Chris Rushworth, Hasan Ali and Ollie Hannon-Dalby. Rushworth finished with four wickets (eight in the match) and Hasan Ali also four (six in the match). Rushworth now has 30 wickets at 14.2 runs apiece since his move to the Bears at the start of the season. And let us not forget that crucial last wicket stand between Hasan Ali and Hannon-Dalby that tipped the match Warwickshire’s way. Hasan Ali is looking like the Bears’ best overseas signing since Jeetan Patel hung up his boots.
In pursuit of that humble target of 100, Alex Davies played a hideous leg side heave that isn’t even in the Ollie Hannon-Dalby coaching manual to fall lbw to Sam Cook for one. Rob Yates looked a shadow of the player he was two years ago and after much playing and missing edged Jamie Porter to Harmer at slip. Even Sam Hain struggled, edging Bracewell behind for nine. When the Bracewell/Pepper combination also accounted for Will Rhodes, the Bears were 65-4.
Dan Mousley and Ed Barnard eased the tension with some handsome shots and the introduction of Simon Harmers spin always looked like too little too late – but unlike Warwickshire’s Danny Briggs, at least he got to turn his arm over and he claimed Mousley who tried to force a straight ball.
When Michael Burgess edged Sam Cook to slip, the Bears were 91-6, still needing 9 to win. Fortunately for them, Ed Barnard showed a cool head to steer them home and achieve a victory that makes them amongst the favourites for the Championship title.
At the start of the day, Essex at 86-4 were still 36 behind and staring defeat in the face.
It took Warwickshire half an hour before the first breakthrough, when Matt Critchley edged Hasan Ali to Yates at slip. Then Chris Rushworth trapped Michael Pepper lbw and had Doug Bracewell caught at second slip by Sam Hain so that Essex were, in effect, 14-7.
Ollie Hannon-Dalby should have claimed Simon Harmer almost immediately, but Bears’ skipper Will Rhodes circled round a skier at mid-off like a small boy hoping to catch a kite stuck in a tree before spilling the chance. Harmer and Shane Snater added 49 valuable runs as the sun gradually broke through and the pitch revealed its slightly more docile side. Rhodes was having a bad day at the office and, again at mid-off, dropped Snater. But, having taken a single from the drop, Snater then succumbed lbw to Hannon-Dalby for 31.
Sam Cook briefly resisted before he parried a short ball from Hasan Ali that flew to Chris Rushworth at long leg.
Essex needed a last wicket stand like the one that the Bears achieved yesterday, and Simon Harmer did his best, hitting Chris Rushworth for a six and four that brought up his 50 off 77 balls. He tried to protect Jamie Porter from the strike but, on the stroke of lunch, Hasan Ali had him well caught low down at slip by the reliable Rob Yates. It was Yates’ fourth catch in the match. Essex, all out 215, led by 99.
Then came Warwickshire’s struggle to a victory that puts them, for the moment at least, at the top of the Division One table with three wins from five games.