Surrey gamble in survival bid
Warwickshire 120 for 0 dec (Chopra 69*) and 55 for 2 need a further 226 runs to beat Surrey 400 for 5 dec and forfeit
Surrey's plight as relegation favourites has not engendered huge sympathy in the wider world of county cricket but in taking an all-or-nothing gamble in an attempt to rescue their season on the final day of this match they surely deserve a little bit of admiration, however grudging.
They have done so by forfeiting the strong chance of the maximum-points draw that would have kept their survival bid mathematically alive going into the final round of matches, instead agreeing to a deal that exposes them to a serious risk of defeat in order to have an outside chance of a win. It was arrived at by playing cricket that was not particularly worthy but at least guaranteed that an honest battle would result.
The odds lean heavily towards a Warwickshire win, with only 226 more runs between them and victory and a full day at their disposal. Yet Surrey have claimed two of the ten wickets they must take to keep the vultures away for at least one more week. A good last morning for them and they will fancy their chances.
The means by which this position was reached had spectators puzzled, as they always do. Surrey declared, reasonably enough, at their overnight of 400 for 5, only for Warwickshire to begin their reply, after more rain, at 3pm with Gary Wilson and Rory Burns sharing the new ball.
The picture became clear after 22 overs - of which Hashim Amla, with one wicket in 166 first-class matches, contributed five overs of what can only be described as barely legal slow right-arm - when Warwickshire declared at 120 for 0 and Surrey forfeited their second innings.
It wasn't proper cricket, as some would have it. The ball was not tossed up in the manner that sometimes characterises 'joke' bowling but it was hardly taxing of batsmen who would normally expect to have Chris Tremlett and Tim Linley steaming in with intent.
But none of their rivals at the bottom can complain, given that the deal done only denies Nottinghamshire and Somerset -- both under threat -- the possibility of arranging some mutually beneficial carve-up when they meet at Trent Bridge next week.
If Surrey do win, and then beat Yorkshire at The Oval next week with 22 points or more, a draw at Trent Bridge would send at least one of the participants down.
And if a target of 281 from 117 overs looks generous to Warwickshire, it is because the home side would agree to allow Surrey 117 overs to bowl them out only if there was something in it for them, which there will be if they win, giving them an opportunity to finish in the prize money if they can beat Derbyshire next week, which would in itself be of benefit to either Somerset or Nottinghamshire. So if it all goes wrong for Surrey, they have made an honourable sacrifice, and everyone's integrity will be intact.
Varun Chopra, the Warwickshire captain, admitted he had driven a hard bargain. "Once we knew the start time, myself and Gareth [Batty] had a discussion. Surrey know the position they are in and need to win the game. They were looking for us to agree to chase 320 plus but, where we would like to win, they need to win.
"For us, the win would give us a chance of finishing in the top three, which would be a decent effort after the season we have had with injuries. It's set up nicely for a good last day."
For the record, the captains checked with the umpires that they were entitled to contrive the circumstances as they did and were told they were within their rights to do so.
Chopra passed 1000 runs for the season during the early manoeuvres, when he made an unbeaten 69, to which he added nought in the second innings, trapped leg before in Tremlett's third over. When Ian Westwood was caught behind, appearing to change his mind too late about chasing a ball from Stuart Meaker outside off stump, Warwickshire were 19 for 2 and Surrey's tails were up.
But that was the limit of Surrey's inroads in the 21 overs Warwickshire faced. Ateeq Javid and Laurie Evans had laid the foundations for recovery, with Evans keener than most to deliver a blow against the county that rejected him three years ago.
Although Jamie Atkinson, hired to keep wicket on an emergency two-game deal after injuries to Tim Ambrose and Peter McKay, now has a suspected broken finger of his own, he will bat and Warwickshire, for all Surrey's boldness, are favourites to disappoint them.