Hain gets comfortable at Lord's
Warwickshire 362 for 8 dec. (Clarke 94, Barker 72*) and 182 for 2 (Hain 106*, Porterfield 62*) drew with Middlesex 372 for 9 dec. (Rogers 85, Dexter 70, Simpson 53)
This stalemate neither banishes Middlesex's relegation blues nor mathematically obliterates the Bears' title hopes. But the odds are heavily in favour of these teams playing in the same division of the County Championship next season with Warwickshire having "only" a limited-overs title or two to defend in 2015.
Dreams of a treble, already somewhat fanciful given Yorkshire's enviable strength in red-ball cricket, were severely dented when all but seven overs of the second day at Lord's were lost to drizzle and bad light.
To win from there, Warwickshire needed to rip through Middlesex's first innings but, in the event, it was the hosts who gained a 10-run lead before declaring, nine down, with lunch approaching this morning. The remaining fare might have been hard to stomach but Sam Hain, a 19-year-old possessor of rare talent, made sure it was more than palatable by scoring the first of what might be a good few hundreds at the home of cricket - and on his first appearance as well.
True, the situation was not highly pressurised. But Hain, looking poised and polished from the start, lived up to his reputation as one well worth the watching. He completed his century, from 162 balls, just before hands were shaken on a draw and seldom looked like missing out on a prize to treasure.
"You grow up reading and hearing about all the history of Lord's so to score a hundred here, well, it hasn't really sunk in yet," Hain said. "I'm just over the moon with the way it has been going for me. I tried to be positive from the start today and luckily it went for me."
Events elsewhere brought both good news and bad. Durham's victory over Notts cheered Warwickshire and saddened Middlesex while the reverse was true once Yorkshire defeated Lancashire.
Warwickshire are now 33 points behind the leaders with two games left and badly need Yorkshire and Notts to play out a draw next week. But even before the end of this game, they could be excused for turning their attentions to tomorrow's Royal London Cup semi-final against Kent at Edgbaston.
Hain has not been playing in the 50-over side and does not expect to be involved tomorrow. "I'll let this hundred sink in and hope to see the boys get over the line against Kent," he said. And the championship title? "Wherever we finish we can be immensely proud of what we've done."
With the T20 Cup already in their kit bag, this season can be considered a success for Warwickshire, come what may. But another final would do nicely.
As for Middlesex, they are now locked together with Durham, having only Lancashire and doomed Northants below them. A lead of 12 points over Lancashire is useful but their remaining three games include a Lord's meeting with Durham and a final round trip to Old Trafford. No time for the mid-season table-toppers to relax, then.
The final day, though certain to bring nothing in the way of edge of the seat excitement, was seldom short of interest.
First, once Middlesex had secured a valuable fourth batting point after resuming on 310 for 6, watchers were treated to the sight of Rikki Clarke bowling to an 8-1 off-side field with left-hander Tim Murtagh hemmed in by an almost impenetrable semi-circle from first slip to short mid-off. But even that ploy failed to earn the visitors a third bowling point.
Optimists sensed the possibility of some afternoon drama when Warwickshire, with opener Varun Chopra laid low by a stomach upset, lost both Ian Westwood and Jonathan Trott - to an edge and a checked drive to mid-on - before they had cleared the small arrears. But William Porterfield and Hain stood firm in the face of a particularly challenging opening spell from Murtagh and then flourished to the tune of 173 undefeated runs.
There is no grander stage that Lord's. But Hain - born in Hong Kong, with British parents and committed to England despite having played for Australia Under-19s - seems destined to play in front of far bigger audiences, on a regular basis, as his career develops.
This was his third Championship century of the season, after a maiden hundred against Northants and another taken off Durham. He drove fluently on both sides of the wicket and, even when cramped for room by Toby Roland-Jones, had the confidence and class to deliberately spoon a boundary over the slip cordon. A rare talent, indeed.