Warwickshire explore loan solution to cover Patel
Warwickshire 132 (Clarke 61, Russell 4-43) and 79 for 0 need 181 more runs to beat Worcestershire 246 and 145 (Patel 4-42)
Warwickshire are exploring the loan market in an attempt to secure their first Championship title since 2004. The current leaders require a replacement for their spinner, New Zealand's Jeetan Patel, who is about to depart on Test duty and are looking at several options - including Durham's Ian Blackwell and Lancashire's Gary Keedy - as short-term solutions.
While Ashley Giles, Warwickshire's director of cricket, expects Patel back for the final game of the season (against the second-placed team Nottinghamshire) and maintain outside hopes of welcoming him back for the game before that, against Worcestershire, they are reluctant to go into their matches against Middlesex and Nottinghamshire without an experienced spin bowler.
Chris Metters, their left-arm spinner, is out for the season though injury while spin-bowling allrounder Paul Best, with just nine first-class games behind him, is deemed too green for such a demanding task. The overseas market has now become so bureaucratic that it takes a minimum of three weeks to bring in a new player.
There are several loan possibilities. The most intriguing is the former England allrounder Blackwell who cannot currently squeeze into the Durham squad. Blackwell is not really Giles' type of player - Blackwell's dislike for training and fitness are something of a throwback to a different age - but, aged 34, he remains a fine cricketer who took career-best bowling figures of 7 for 52 in his last first-class game, against Australia A. He has also scored over 11,000 first-class runs at an average only a fraction under 40.
The Lancashire pair of Keedy and Stephen Parry are also of interest. Giles has long been a fan of Keedy - Warwickshire offered him a three-year contract at the end of last year - but he might well be required by Lancashire. It is possible, however, that in seeking to help Warwickshire defeat Lancashire's relegation rivals, Lancashire's cause might be well-served by allowing Keedy to go for a spell at Edgbaston. Parry has played only three first-class games and none since 2009 and is a less likely option.
While Warwickshire worry about replacing Patel, they also missed Chris Woakes against Worcestershire. Woakes' lower-order excellence with the bat has papered over cracks in the top-order batting at the club for some time, just as Neil Carter did in the past. Yet, like several counties, they have seen their team weakened by England Lions call-ups just as the Championship should be reaching a peak. While the ECB consult about the future of county cricket, they might also reflect how it would prosper if given half a chance.
Still, in a game of numerous twists and turns, the decisive blow may have been struck by Warwickshire in the evening session. Set 260 to win, the opening batsmen rode their luck and benefitted from a somewhat jaded performance in the field from Worcestershire in reducing their target to a more manageable 181. On a day on which 17 wickets fell, their unbroken stand of 79 was the largest by a distance.
They enjoyed some fortune. Ian Westwood, in particular, endured the most uncertain of starts and came within an ace of playing on when four. Varun Chopra, meanwhile, escaped an edge off Moeen Ali that flew between wicketkeeper and slip when he had scored 27 and another to short-leg off Brett D'Oliveria when he had 39.
The pitch, also used for Tuesday night's CB40 game, is offering ever more assistance to spin, however, and some uneven bounce to seamers, so all is not yet lost for Worcestershire.
If Worcestershire do lose they will rue their lower-order batting collapses in both innings. Just as on the opening day where they lost their last five wickets for the addition of just seven runs, on the second they lost their last six for the addition of only 37. It meant they squandered a position from which they were 222 ahead with six wickets in hand to one in which they set a target of only 260.
It is not an unfamiliar tale for Worcestershire. They have shown throughout the last couple of seasons that they can compete with the best for a couple of days, only for one poor session to undermine their good work.
Perhaps, when we come to reflect on this game, we may conclude that the turning point came with the early wicket of Phil Hughes in Worcestershire's second innings. Leading by 114 on first innings, Worcestershire had an excellent opportunity to bat Warwickshire out of the match but Hughes, unsettled by Keith Barker's incisive swing, left a straight one, before Daryl Mitchell and Moeen Ali were drawn into pokes at deliveries on off stump that resulted in slip catches.
But Vikram Solanki was even more culpable. For the second time in the match he made batting appear easy only to once again squander his wicket. This time a thick edged force squirted to point and, while Matthew Pardoe fought hard, the lower-order never hinted at permanence against Patel's off-breaks.
In many ways this has been a bewildering game. There is little wrong with the pitch. But the bowlers of both sides have performed admirably and the batsmen of both sides have shown a lack of application and technique. Still, Chris Russell, the 23-year-old Worcestershire debutant, showed excellent stamina and consistency to deliver a 12-over spell of pace and swing bowling in the morning session that picked up three wickets.
The only Warwickshire man who looked at all comfortable was Rikki Clarke, who batted beautifully in registering his fifth score above 50 in the campaign. Clarke is an admirable cricket and a passionate competitor but may concede, in time, that he soured another fine innings by displaying obvious disappointment when he was adjudged by umpire Neil Bainton to have been caught at short-leg.
It matters not whether the umpire was right or wrong, such obvious signs of dissent have no place in the game. Later the umpires were also obliged to speak to Chopra, captain in place of the unwell Jim Troughton, after Clarke's continued disappointment manifested itself in the field. The umpires spoke to Warwickshire's team management at the close and Clarke may consider himself fortunate if he escapes further censure.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo