Title is Warwickshire's to lose
Warwickshire 504 for 6 (Ambrose 151*, Westwood 81, Blackwell 69*) and 86 for 3 drew with Nottinghamshire 356 for 8 dec (Hales 155, Read 95, Wright 4-107)
Slowly but surely, Warwickshire are edging towards the County Championship, with the title they last won in 2004 theirs to throw away now. Going into the final two rounds, they have a lead of 22 points over Sussex, with Nottinghamshire a further six points back in third place.
Mathematically, Nottinghamshire could still deprive them but effectively they would need to win both their remaining matches with maximum points. If Warwickshire take 21 points or more from their visit to Worcester next week, even that would not be enough. Nottinghamshire's last match, if you needed reminding, when they will have half their side missing through international engagements or injury, is against Warwickshire at Trent Bridge.
A win for Jim Troughton's team at New Road would also put Sussex out unless they beat Somerset at Hove. Troughton was willing to say after this match with Nottinghamshire ended as expected in a draw that Warwickshire are "strong favourites" but was unwilling to go any further.
"People can say it is ours to lose if they want but we were beginning to look behind us in our last match against Middlesex and escaped with a draw after playing poorly," he said. "I think we put that to bed in this match but we need to go to Worcester looking only ahead of us and make sure we take care of what we have to do. That is the mentality that has got us into the position where we can strike out for the top spot, right from day one of the season."
Warwickshire dominated Nottinghamshire in this match. But for the loss of the second day to rain, they might well have won, even though Alex Hales, England's Twenty20 opener, advertised himself as a candidate, at least, for the vacant position in the Test side with an unbeaten 155.
The pitch remained good but, even without Chris Woakes, who has been released by England for tomorrow's CB40 semi-final, they have a potent attack well equipped to take 20 wickets, given time. Their 504 for 6 declared, with Tim Ambrose's superb 151 not out at its core, came at four an over. In other circumstances, they would have sought to add another 100 and turn the screw on their opponents, perhaps even repeated the innings victory of last September, which was sweet revenge for a two-day defeat inflicted on them by Nottinghamshire in 2010.
As it was, they still had an opportunity when play resumed on the final morning. Nottinghamshire were 166 adrift of the figure needed to avoid the follow-on and four down. Two or three early wickets would have properly tested their resolve.
In the event, though, Hales and Chris Read rarely offered more than the hint of a chance for an hour and a half until Read, on 95, danced down the pitch to Ian Blackwell at the start of the left-arm spinner's second over and missed the ball completely. He was so far out of his ground he needed to launch himself into a dive to stand any chance of getting back. But Ambrose had the bails off much too quickly.
When Paul Franks then chipped a ball from Boyd Rankin straight to Troughton at mid-on, Graeme White was bowled middle stump and the wounded Andre Adams, batting with a (superfluous) runner, sent his fourth ball soaring off a top edge to gully, it looked momentarily as if Nottinghamshire might follow on after all, but Hales ensured they did not.
With that, Read declared immediately, denying Warwickshire another batting point. Troughton, tongue almost in cheek, wondered if it was quite in the spirit of the game to do so, but Read was well within his rights not to hand out free gifts. And no one booed.
The game was dead anyway. Warwickshire batted out the time remaining for a largely irrelevant 86 for 3, although William Porterfield's dismissal for 3 will not have escaped Ashley Giles's notice. The Irishman is in a run of low scores and there is a suspicion that the axe that descended on Darren Maddy in this match may not have missed him by much.
Mick Newell, the Nottinghamshire director of cricket, revealed that permission has been obtained for Hales and Michael Lumb to start the match against Surrey at The Oval next week before leaving after two days to join England's Twenty20 squad.
Newell acknowledged that Hales has chosen a timely moment, with a selector in attendance, to post his highest score of the season, and against a high calibre attack, although he believes there are others with stronger claims to become Alastair Cook's new partner in the Test line-up.
"It was a good moment for Alex," he said. "He played a good innings against Durham last week, too. He is not anywhere near the top of the pile, not as close as he should have been if he had played better at the start of the season.
"But the timing is right to put his name forward for Lions tours if nothing else this winter. And whoever comes into the Test side will not be as good a player as Andrew Strauss so there will be an opportunity to put pressure on that player.
"This run of form has come a bit late, probably. If you are going to go for a young player, then (Joe) Root is ahead of him. But Alex has scored runs here last year, where he got 100 and 70, and in front of Ashley is a good place to do it."