Warwickshire 329 (Clarke 140, Maddy 112, Kerrigan 4-89) and 71 for 5 (Kerrigan 3-34) beat Lancashire 250 (Maddy 4-39) and 148 (Barker 5-54, Patel 5-52)
Warwickshire may still be feeling the disappointment of missing out on the title on the final day of last season, but they held their nerve for the second week running to claim a five-wicket victory over Lancashire to establish themselves among the early division one pacesetters.
A nervous run-chase against Somerset last week, which was only secured after Jeetan Patel hit 43 off 36 balls to make amends for a batting collapse, was followed by Warwickshire just about reaching their victory target of 70 under great pressure from Simon Kerrigan and Gary Keedy, Lancashire's pair of left-arm spinners.
Yet for all the frayed nerves on the players' balcony inside Aigburth's Victorian pavilion, Ashley Giles wore a big grin and rated it as "the best Warwickshire victory" since he returned as director of cricket in 2008. That it was achieved against Lancashire, who won the championship on that dramatic final afternoon last September, was barely noticed.
The victory opened up a 40-point lead between Warwickshire and Lancashire, who have now suffered defeats in the opening two games of a season for the first time since 1965. It is early in the summer still, but supporters are already raising fears they may follow in the footsteps of Yorkshire (2002) and Nottinghamshire (2006) and suffer relegation as defending champions.
In a dominant position ever since the 234-run eighth wicket stand between Darren Maddy and Rikki Clarke on Saturday afternoon, there were slight concerns on the final morning when rain delayed the start until shortly before lunch and removed 21 overs from the day's allocation. It only served to hasten Warwickshire's determination to secure the victory quickly and they wrapped up Lancashire's last six wickets in 24 overs.
Keith Barker's increased responsibility in the absence of injured seamers Boyd Rankin and Chris Woakes has allowed him to flourish and he made the early inroads once Gary Keedy, Lancashire's nightwatchman, had swept Patel's off-spin to mid-wicket. The extra bounce he extracted from the River End removed Luke Procter for a duck via his glove while Ian Bell ended Gareth Cross' dangerous cameo of 20 with a superb diving catch at short mid-wicket.
Re-signed for Warwickshire primarily as a bowler, Patel came into his own and enjoyed an intense tussle with Ashwell Prince, Lancashire's South African overseas player. Gaining considerable turn and bounce from the worn Aigburth wicket, he teased out Glen Chapple and Kerrigan to catches close to the wicket to complete his third five-wicket haul in five championship matches for Warwickshire.
The key wicket was the dismissal of Prince, who had battled for over two hours for his half-century, but attempted to sweep a fuller ball on leg stump and was bowled around his legs, leaving Warwickshire what looked a modest target.
Chapple gave Kerrigan the Pavilion End from the start and he claimed two early wickets, including Bell caught at short extra cover driving on the up. Keedy, brought on from the River End after Chapple had an unsuccessful three-over spell with the new ball, claimed further wickets in successive overs.
Tension really started to increase once Darren Maddy, batting with an injured finger, edged Kerrigan to Stephen Moore at second slip to leave Warwickshire still needing 18 runs with five wickets down. Will Porterfield retained his composure to score an unbeaten 22 and the victory was completed with Tim Ambrose cutting Keedy for four.
"We can definitely see areas where we can improve," conceded Chapple, Lancashire's captain. "Warwickshire are a title-chasing team and although we are under par there is no far for us to go before we are turning sides over.
"This year we have started slowly, but a couple of wins and we can get ourselves back in the hunt. It is important to address what isn't quite right at the moment, but it is not far off. "We have had a good chat and we know where we need to go. It is a brand new season, being champions is irrelevant, we have said that from the word go. It is up to us to perform."