Warks cling on after 'worst week'
Warwickshire 333 (Westwood 120) and 152 for 7 (Patel 3-60) drew with Middlesex 287 and 412 (Malan 140, Rogers 109, Berg 78, Ranki 5-78, Wright 5-119)
Warwickshire remain favourites to win the 2012 County Championship despite putting in one of their least-impressive performances of the summer. Having left themselves an enormous task by taking 91 overs to bowl out Middlesex at a cost of 412 runs, the likelihood of their chasing down 367 from 83 overs to win always seemed remote. Yet they cannot have imagined they would struggle to secure a draw.
In the end they probably had the weather to thank for sparing them a defeat. Five down when rain in mid-afternoon caused a loss of 16 overs, they were 152 for 7 when bad light 20 minutes into the final hour ended the match, with a minimum of 8.2 overs still to be bowled.
Nonetheless, thanks to rain denying Sussex a win at Taunton, Warwickshire increase their lead from 11 points to 12. They have three matches to play, second-placed Sussex have two. Nottinghamshire, in third place and also with three matches left, are a further 15 points behind. They are at Edgbaston next week for a match that could be the title decider.
Although Boyd Rankin and Chris Wright took five wickets each in the second innings - sharing 15 in the match - the Warwickshire bowling lacked discipline overall, with too many boundaries conceded and a high count in no-balls. The batting was not particularly impressive, either, with a couple of exceptions. Afterwards, director of cricket, Ashley Giles, conceded that his players might have lost a little intensity, perhaps thinking the job was already done.
"We have slightly lost focus and for us we were a bit ragged," Giles said. "We lost our discipline a bit with the ball. There were too many boundaries and no-balls crept in.
"With the bat we were 223 for three in the first innings and then lost five wickets in an afternoon session. What we have done well this year is that someone has come and seen the new ball off, we have consolidated and gone again.
"We didn't do that and that was a bit of sloppiness. We need to re-focus on the day-to-day stuff because I think our eyes moved too far towards the middle of September rather than what is happening now. Middlesex played very well and will feel hard done by but perhaps we have played well often enough this season to have earned that bit of luck.
"That was by far our worst week in the Championship this season but somehow we have got through it and actually stretched our lead slightly. We need to play better than that if we are to win the title but we have dodged a bullet and I think we will be all right now."
Resuming on 351 for 5, Middlesex were already 305 in front but at that stage were more interested in insuring themselves against defeat and batted on. If they had a declaration in mind, it probably would have come with another 50 or so added but in allowing the innings to follow its natural course they reached that point anyway, more or less.
The new ball was available and Warwickshire took it immediately. They had success in the second over with it when Wright had Dawid Malan caught behind for 140, three short of his career best. But another half-a-dozen expensive overs passed before Steven Crook was caught behind edging a pull shot. He and Gareth Berg put on 42 in that time but the last four Middlesex wickets went in consecutive overs. Berg's 73 contained 10 boundaries, which was an accurate reflection of how often Middlesex were offered scoring opportunities.
Warwickshire probably never seriously entertained pursuing their target and after losing both openers inside the first six overs were certainly not interested. Ian Westwood, after his first-innings century, perished for a duck, caught well by Adam Rossington, diving low to his left behind the stumps. Varun Chopra simply played a poor shot, top-edging a pull that looped easily to mid-on.
William Porterfield and Darren Maddy, who have struggled for runs all season, did themselves no favours as Giles weighs up his options for next week. Porterfield propped forward to the first ball bowled by Ravi Patel, the young left-arm spinner, missed it and was stumped. Maddy was leg-before wicket playing across a straight one from Berg.
Rikki Clarke, only half-forward, was lbw to Toby Roland-Jones and at 86 for 5 Warwickshire were in such trouble that they were grateful for once that the showers threatened in the weather forecast duly turned up.
When they had passed, there were still 36 overs left in the day, more than enough time, it seemed, for Middlesex to give themselves an unexpected boost if the pattern continued.
By then the light was poor and the umpires made it clear that Middlesex would have to use only their slow bowlers if they wanted to stay on the field. In the event, Patel bowled with a good deal more confidence than he had in the first innings and claimed a significant wicket when Jim Troughton, who was by then Warwickshire's best hope for a steady hand, was surprised by a ball that bounced and turned and gloved a catch that Rossington took on the leg side.
Tim Ambrose defied the pain of a sore knuckle that had required a precautionary trip to the X-ray department earlier in the day but Ian Blackwell increased the tension when he carelessly drove one straight back to Patel, after which Warwickshire greeted a further deterioration in the light with some relief.