Nottinghamshire's title challenge fading
Warwickshire 298 for 5 (Westwood 81, Ambrose 64*) v Nottinghamshire
Increasingly, it is difficult to dismiss the suspicion that Nottinghamshire's title challenge is on its last legs and that Warwickshire have one hand on the trophy. Quite apart from the knowledge that Chris Read's team will be shorn of four of their top six batsmen when these sides meet again at Trent Bridge in the last week of the season, it now looks likely that Andre Adams, the bowler on whom so much of their recent success has rested, will be missing too.
Adams, who turned 37 last month, was recalled after missing Nottinghamshire's match against Durham nearly two weeks ago with a calf injury. However, it was clear during his 10-over opening spell that he was not at his best. He bowled two much shorter spells later and by the end of the second of those he was coming in off a shortened run in clear discomfort. He left the field soon afterwards.
Mick Newell, Nottinghamshire's director of cricket, confirmed that Adams was still troubled by the calf problem and that he feared his season was over.
"He has been struggling since our game at Taunton three weeks ago and it isn't getting better," he said. "It was a bit of a gamble playing him here but it is a game we have to win so we felt we had to take that gamble. Unfortunately he has had a recurrence and I think that may be it for the season for him now."
Nottinghamshire are also without their left-arm quick, Harry Gurney, while Ben Phillips was ruled out of this match when he went down with a 'flu-like virus overnight. With Samit Patel on England duty, Nottinghamshire are left with Luke Fletcher, Andy Carter and Paul Franks to share the seam-bowling duties, with Graeme White in as specialist spinner.
However, though Fletcher and Franks - both keen to impress, for different reasons - performed well, with Adams ineffective they lacked enough armoury to contain Warwickshire's strong batting line-up.
A partnership of 102 between Tim Ambrose and Rikki Clarke, spanning 30 overs either side of tea against an ageing ball, built on opener Ian Westwood's valuable 81 to take Warwickshire close to 300 at the close and with Ian Blackwell still to come it would be no surprise on a good pitch if the final total were closer to 400, even if a full quota of batting points might be out of reach.
Westwood might have been out twice. He was dropped on 48 low down at first slip by Alex Hales off Fletcher and again on 62 at second slip by Adam Voges off Adams. In matches as critical as this, chances missed are forgiven less easily than ever and Hales, in particular, has not had the surest hands this season.
Hales did hold on to one earlier as Fletcher made the first breakthrough by removing Varun Chopra. Fletcher, 23, is a favourite with Nottinghamshire supporters, who always appreciate a trier. A new-ball bowler with natural aggression, he is a broadly built character who plainly does not find it as easy as some to keep off the pounds yet is a handful for most batsmen when he is on song and this was such a day. He finished with 2 for 49 from 25 overs, proving his stamina when he came back for his fourth spell of the day, with the new ball, and almost immediately had Clarke caught behind.
Compared with Fletcher, Franks is at the other end of his career. Like Fletcher, he can seldom be faulted for commitment, not least because he is also a Nottinghamshire man and wears his county allegiance on his sleeve. His motivation now is that he would prefer to finish his career there, after 17 seasons as a senior player, rather than move on. Although he has a year left on his contract, he has become peripheral to Nottinghamshire's plans as they seek to build a new seam attack and he has been told he can speak to other counties.
He had taken only seven first-class wickets before this match yet performed impressively, adding three to his score with swinging deliveries. He bowled William Porterfield with one that came back into the left-hander and persuaded another to move enough to trap Westwood leg before, having had Jim Troughton caught behind off an inside edge for 40 the over before.
Those wickets threatened momentarily to shift the balance back towards Nottinghamshire. Had Adams been somewhere near his best, it might have been a turning point. As it is, Ambrose, who has hit 11 fours and looked in control, has taken the initiative back and Nottinghamshire's chances of taking the win they need to stay in contention already look slim.