Warwickshire earn survival lifeline
Warwickshire 155 and 155 for 3 beat Essex 114 and 193 by seven wickets
It may not have looked a particularly demanding target on paper but, with a wretched batting record and their top division status at stake, Warwickshire produced one of their best performances of the summer to revive their hopes of avoiding relegation.
A seven-wicket victory over Essex leaves Warwickshire equal on points with Kent and seventh in the table. Kent, who have a game in hand, are the next visitors to Edgbaston in an encounter that could well decide which team goes down. The financial pressure under which Kent are under, with just about their entire squad made available for transfer to other counties, can hardly help them.
This defeat all but condemns Essex to relegation, however. They are now bottom of the table and have just one game - against Durham - left to play. Essex need not only to win, but for other results to go their way. On the evidence of this performance, it would be a major surprise if they were to avoid the drop. They look ill-disciplined, with brittle batting and, the reliable David Masters apart, anodyne bowling.
Indeed, for much of the afternoon, it looked as if only the weather could deny Warwickshire. While the rain intervened twice, the showers were never severe enough to keep the players off the field for long.
Darren Maddy, with just his second Championship half-century of the summer, led the way for Warwickshire, though there were also useful contributions from Ian Westwood and Varun Chopra.
To many teams, a target of 153 in 70 might not look have looked too demanding. For Warwickshire, however, who have been dismissed for 155 or fewer 11 times in this Championship campaign, it could have proved daunting.
Crucially, however, they made a decent start. For just the third time in 28 attempts this summer, the openers compiled a half-century partnership, with Westwood and Chopra watchful but positive.
Westwood was particularly impressive. Though the pitch continued to provide assistance to the seamers, Westwood drove neatly through the covers and square cut with power. He has been the victim of a large amount of criticism from Warwickshire supporters this season but, in such situations, he is just the sort of dogged fighter his team require. He is also the team's highest run-scorer. It was some surprise when he missed an attempted sweep in Danish Kaneria's first over.
Though Jim Troughton's grim run showed no sign of abating - he's passed 50 just once this season, and that was in April - when he was leg-before playing across a straight one, Maddy looked nerveless and feasted on a surfeit of short bowling.
The end came in a rush. Maddy punished Tony Palladino for four successive boundaries to reach his first half-century since May and, when Rikki Clarke drove Chambers through the covers. It was, oddly, the fourth time in this championship campaign that Warwickshire have made 155 against Essex.
Earlier, a sustained spell of fast bowling from Rikki Clarke helped bowl out Essex for 193 in their second innings. Clarke, who has already taken more first-class wickets than in any previous summer, reaped the rewards for bowling an excellent line and length at an unusually brisk pace.
Both Mark Pettini and Ryan ten Doeschate were bowled off their inside edges, prodding indeterminately, unsure whether to play forward or back, before Masters edged a loose drive.
Perhaps the key wicket, however, was gifted to Warwickshire. Pettini called Matt Walker through for a high-risk single only to see Chopra swoop in from extra-cover and throw down the stumps with a direct hit. James Foster was deceived by Chris Woakes' inswinger, before Palladino completed his pair by missing a straight one and Kaneria failed in his attempts to slog one out of Birmingham.
"If we can stay up it will be a miraculous effort," Ashley Giles, Warwickshire's director of cricket, said afterwards. "We know this win doesn't suddenly make everything rosy, but we've some signs of improvement with the bat and some glimpses of confidence. It makes next week's game against Kent, in effect, a double-pointer. We've some massive days coming up.
"But, so far, we've done what we needed to do. We've showed a lot of spirit and we've made sure our fate remains in our hands. To win a game where we've lost the best part of a day and two-thirds to the opposition, is a great effort.
"We were clearly the team that wanted to win this game more. We were fighting the weather more than the opposition and it's nice to see the guys relaxing and enjoying the win. We've had enough tears this summer."