Surrey v Warwickshire, The Oval, 3rd day May 25, 2012

Ambrose puts Warwickshire on verge of top spot

Jon Culley at The Oval

Warwickshire 247 and 181 for 5 (Ambrose 74*, Porterfield 66, Batty 4-56) need 41 more runs to beat Surrey 223 and 245 (Roy 71, Patel 6-95)

Warwickshire increasingly suggest their promise to be title contenders in 2012 has more going for it than mere optimism. With five wickets in hand, they will return to The Oval on the final morning needing 41 runs to secure a fourth win in six.

Victory would reassume the leadership of the First Division that Somerset hold after their victory over Durham and ensure that Nottinghamshire, who were in front before sitting out the last round of games, feel under a modicum of mid-season pressure at Hove, where Sussex have already ensured that a win will not be easily gained.

Momentarily at the close of the third day in south London, it appeared Warwickshire might attempt to complete the job and give themselves Saturday off. Tim Ambrose and Rikki Clarke, the batsmen on the field, clearly considered taking the extra half-hour, but Jim Troughton, the captain, sensibly decided there was no need to rush.

Ambrose is unbeaten on 74, and Rikki Clarke, apart from taking a painful blow on the toe during a hostile burst from Stuart Meaker, has settled in relative comfort to be 18 not out but the pitch in this match has been one on which wickets have come in flurries and the offspinners on both sides have been dangerous.

After Gareth Batty's six wickets in Warwickshire's first innings, Jeetan Patel countered with half a dozen of his own as Surrey were dismissed for 245 in their second innings. The New Zealander bowled with particular skill in returning his best figures in county cricket and Surrey might have left Warwickshire with much less to do but for Jon Lewis and Chris Jordan, whose bold approach added 54 in 14 overs for the eighth wicket.

Patel captured both in the end but their show of aggression, in which Lewis set the tone, left Warwickshire a target of 222 which looked potentially tricky, more so when they stumbled to 37 for 4.

Batty again was their tormentor, taking three wickets in his first four overs, but a partnership of 111 between Ambrose and the Ireland captain, William Porterfield swung the balance back towards Warwickshire. So impressive had he been in the first innings that the second innings was only 10 overs old when Rory Hamilton-Brown tossed Batty the ball and asked for a repeat performance.

Warwickshire had already suffered a blow with the loss of Varun Chopra to a fifth-ball duck and Batty struck with his fourth delivery, to which Ian Westwood pushed forward and edged to slip, where Tom Maynard took a fine catch. With the third delivery of his second over, Batty had Troughton, on the sweep, leg before without scoring as his thin run continued. It was his first duck of the season but nine innings so far have produced only 50 runs.

When Darren Maddy then drove the ball back tamely to offer Batty a straightforward return catch, Surrey sensed they might have the trump card again in the 34-year-old former England bowler.

But Warwickshire do not lack self-belief these days and Porterfield and Ambrose plotted a sensible course. Cleverly though he bowled, unchanged at the Pavilion End, getting as much as he could from a slow turning pitch, Batty was made to wait more than two hours for another breakthrough.

It was time enough for the fifth wicket pair to re-establish Warwickshire in a position of strength, even though Porterfield, whose conversion rate of 50s to 100s might be better, annoyed himself, after more than three hours at the crease, for playing back to the ball pushed through by Batty that had him leg before for 66.

The wicket gave Batty 10 in the match for only the second time in his career, the first since he took 10 for 113 against Northamptonshire for Worcestershire eight years ago.

Ambrose survived a confident appeal for a stumping off Hamilton-Brown on 35 (with the total 100-4) and looped a bat-pad chance over the head of Jason Roy on 44 but otherwise cut a secure figure.

In the morning, Patel had taken five of the six Surrey wickets that remained overnight. He had Maynard caught bat and pad at silly point, ended Jacques Rudolph's brief stint at The Oval by bowling him as he tried to clip the ball through midwicket, then had Batty caught at short mid-on. Lewis fell to a catch by the diving Porterfield at midwicket and Jordan was leg before on the back foot, the innings wrapped up when Chris Woakes beat an expansive swing by Jade Dernbach.