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George Dobell at Edgbaston
August 19, 2011
Hampshire 141 and 163 for 4 Warwickshire 250
They may have gone into the season as one of the bookies favourites to suffer relegation but, going into the final four weeks of the season, Warwickshire are emerging as genuine title contenders.
If they win this game and other results go their way - notably the match at Blackpool - Warwickshire will go top of the table over the next day or two. As Warwickshire wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose put it: "There isn't a side whose position I'd swap with. No-one has really considered us as potential winners, but we've won more matches than anyone and we have a game in hand."
The next day or two could also have strong ramifications for Hampshire. While they will not be mathematically certain to suffer relegation if they lose here, their realistic chances of survival will be horribly slim.
This match isn't decided just yet, however. While Hampshire only lead by 54 with four of their second innings wickets spent, Warwickshire will not fancy chasing many more than 250 in the fourth innings against Imran Tahir. The pitch is no minefield, certainly, but there's enough assistance for bowlers of all types to ensure batting is never an easy business. The involvement of Warwickshire's Rikki Clarke, who nowadays is a vital member of Warwickshire's bowling attack, may also be heavily restricted after he strained a hamstring.
There was a time, while Michael Carberry and Neil McKenzie were together, when it looked as the visitors might well set a testing fourth innings target. But when Carberry, who had looked in tremendous form, played across a swinging yorker and McKenzie felt for a fine ball that bounced and left him, Hampshire were left on the back foot again. Earlier Jimmy Adams missed a straight one and Liam Dawson edged one angled across him. Keith Barker, the left-arm seamer, claimed the first three wickets to fall and generated decent pace and pleasing swing into the right-handers.
If Warwickshire do fail to win this match, they may well come to rue their first innings performance with the bat. While they established a useful lead of 109, it could have been far more and a series of soft dismissals meant they squandered the chance to bat Hampshire out of the game.
Indeed, for a while, it seemed the visitors might snatch a first innings lead. When Jim Troughton flashed at the second ball of the day and Rikki Clarke held his bat out at one he should have left, Warwickshire had lost their sixth wicket and were still 28 behind. Troughton hasn't passed 50 in the Championship since April and has only made three half-centuries in this competition in since August 2009.
Ambrose and Chris Woakes, however, ensured that Warwickshire retained the initiative. The pair both made polished half-centuries as they added 73 for the seventh wicket, with Woakes following up his excellence with the ball by making the top score of the match so far.
Both, however, undid some of their good work with soft dismissals. Ambrose edged a loose drive moments before lunch, while Woakes ran himself out attempting an improbable single. On a blameless pitch, a haul of just two batting bonus points was a missed opportunity. It may yet come back to haunt them.
It was another decent day's work from Ambrose, however. After enduring a miserable 2010 when he considered giving up cricket, he's back to something approaching his best with bat and gloves. The stats might not show it, but his five half-centuries in a summer of tricky batting conditions have played a huge part in Warwickshire's success.
Ambrose is out of contract in a month and, as yet, has not held formal discussions over his future. While Warwickshire would like him to stay, there will surely be other offers waiting.
"I went into this season with an open mind: if I hadn't enjoyed it, I would have given up cricket," Ambrose admitted. "But I can honestly say I'm enjoying my cricket as much, if not more, than I ever have done. I haven't thought about next year just yet. There will be time for that soon. For now I just want to concentrate on winning a second Championship title [Ambrose also won one with Sussex].
"I feel I'm in fantastic nick at the moment. I'm seeing the ball really well at the moment and I'm enjoying keeping to this attack. Boyd Rankin is as hostile as anyone out there on his day, while Chris Woakes is a high-class bowler who just keeps building up the pressure on batsmen. I'd fancy us to chase 200 in this game. And, if we wrap this up, we're in a better position than anyone to win the title."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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