Depleted Warwickshire thrash favourites
Warwickshire 462 (Ambrose 167, Patel 105, Wright 52, Hain 42, Roland-Jones 3-66) beat Middlesex 167 (Finn 37*, Rogers 34, Wright 4-56) and 248 (Rogers 82, Robson 68, Patel 4-78) by an innings and 47 runs
To jump to the top of the Division One table might be considered a decent achievement in any circumstances. But to do so with an innings victory over the Championship favourites despite going into the game with a team lacking 10 players should be considered a clear indication that Warwickshire have the strength in depth to sustain a strong challenge for the title this year.
Warwickshire, who have now won two games in succession, were missing eight men with international experience (Boyd Rankin, Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Chris Woakes, Rikki Clarke, William Porterfield, Freddie Coleman and Jim Troughton) from this side as well as two others (Recordo Gordon and Tom Milnes) who might well have been considered first choice alternatives had they been fit. They also lost Oliver Hannon-Dalby with a side strain on the first day.
But the acquisition of Richard Jones - a swing bowler of sharp pace - from Worcestershire in the close-season has already borne fruit. He might never develop into the consistent bowler that Worcestershire required but he has the precious ability to take wickets - a career strike-rate of a wicket every 44.4 balls at this level is exceptional - and here added a dimension to an already impressive attack by gaining enough reverse swing to render the ball dangerous throughout its life span.
Not every wicket came from a fine ball - John Simpson slapped a long-hop to cover - but it was Jones who claimed the key wicket of Sam Robson, beaten by a late swinging yorker as he played across a straight one and Jones who dismissed Denly, prodding half forward, to another that swung late. The pitch remained good but, as Dougie Brown, the Warwickshire director of cricket said afterwards "having swing bowlers takes the pitch out of the equation".
Jeetan Patel, as ever, also contributed. His four wickets here included that of Chris Rogers, who never settled as well as Robson and fell attempting a sweep, as well as two wickets in two balls to wrap up victory just after Warwickshire had claimed the extra half-hour. It was a reminder of Patel's value as overseas player and the importance of his decision to decline an invitation to tour the Caribbean with the New Zealand squad in order to concentrate on his Warwickshire career. A contract extension beckons.
"That was a tough decision," Patel said afterwards. "I've always said that playing Test cricket was the be-all and end-all for me, but I've other interests now. My family is the most important thing. For them to be safe and happy is most important.
"Would I have played in the Caribbean? Maybe. Maybe I would have earned a one-year central contract. But I have to look further ahead than that and I could have sat on the sidelines and wasted an opportunity to cement my position here. And I love it at Warwickshire. Being a Bear is special."
Well though Warwickshire bowled, this was another painfully weak performance from the Middlesex batsmen. On the same surface where Warwickshire's No. 8 had thumped a century the previous day, Middlesex conspired to lose their last nine wickets for 93 runs. It was a surface called "benign" by Middlesex coach Richard Scott the previous evening and a surface of which any professional batsman might dream.
But there is a recklessness within this Middlesex middle-order that cannot always be masked by the excellence of Rogers and Robson. While the pair again made batting appear a straightforward business in adding 149 for the second wicket, this side is as brittle as egg shell: crack the top and the middle is soft and vulnerable. It was, no doubt, the point made by batting coach Mark Ramprakash in the long team meeting that followed the defeat.
The batting collapse is hardly a new phenomenon for Middlesex. In the first innings here they lost eight wickets for 32, in the previous game at Lord's they were bowled out for 123 in their first innings and against Sussex they were dismissed for 105 and 154.
The long-term form of some of the middle-order underlines the sense that this is not a one-off. Dawid Malan, whose dismissal here attempting an aggressive pull with half-an-hour of the day remaining and the second new ball just a few overs old might be considered a nadir, has made two Championship half-centuries in 26 innings since the start of 2013 and has a top-score of 61. Joe Denly's form - he has a top score of 77 in 31 innings over the same period - is little better.
"This is not quite good enough," Rogers said afterwards. "We've got to get better. Everyone is trying but to lose 8-30 on this pitch, a pitch with no demons, well, it's unforgivable. There are no quick fixes but we do have to fix this."
He did praise Warwickshire's opening pair, though, labelling Keith Barker and Chris Wright "excellent bowlers" with "good skills" and predicted a "decent future" for them.
James Whitaker, the national selector, was among the spectators - he sat for a while with Andy Flower - and also made a point of enquiring about Wright's form.
International calls will continue to dig deep into the Warwickshire squad. But they hope to have Bell, Woakes et al. back for the game at Yorkshire which already looks as if it could have a huge bearing on the title. And with the likes of Jones and Sam Hain, who both made huge impacts on debut in this game, in support, they seem to have the depth to cope with the demands they are sure to face.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo