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Batty trumps Bell in battle of wills

Surrey 252 (Burns 50, Patel 4-58) and 390 (Sangakkara 88, S Curran 62, Wright 4-75) beat Warwickshire 247 (Barker 62, S Curran 5-44) and 169 by 227 runs
Scorecard

Ian Bell's accession to the Warwickshire captaincy was not meant to turn out like this. Instead of an anticipated title challenge, he is now haunted by vague fears of relegation, unthinkable in April. Instead of an inspired return to the England side, he has made no immediate comeback to a deeply unimpressive England middle order and is so consumed by the job he has taken on late in his career that the runs are not coming easily.

The Warwickshire captaincy was a childhood dream for Bell ever since he sprinted onto the outfield at Lord's to celebrate the county's 1993 NatWest Trophy win under the individualistic captaincy of Dermot Reeve. For a proven England player to return to the county ranks with ambitions so sharp, and good years still ahead, was something for Warwickshire to relish, but the job is proving an onerous one.

Bell challenged Warwickshire to bat out the final day against Surrey - to chase 396 for victory, from 2 for 1 overnight, felt out of the question - but the day he called the biggest of the season fell Surrey's way by 227 runs with 20 overs to spare. Surrey have passed Warwickshire in the table and have the look of an improving side with much to commend them. If either of the bottom two stir it is now Warwickshire and Durham who have most to fear.

At least Bell conceded his own wicket in most honourable fashion during a compelling duel with Gareth Batty, finally unpicked at short leg after making 32 in two-and-a-quarter stubborn hours, survival his only undertaking. He managed a couple of peaceful off-side drives, but the overriding image was of Bell under attack from an angry seagull as Batty squawked, flapped and smiled his way through his overs, finding substantial bounce and turn from a wearing final-day surface. This was surely the best 2 for 27 of the season, earned by 21 antagonistic overs. This has also been another excellent Edgbaston pitch.

Surrey's spin pair, Batty and Zafar Ansari, are both being monitored as potential England tourists in India and Bangladesh and they make a contrasting pair, not just because of offspin and slow left arm but in personality. Ansari has a stately stroll and flick back of floppy hair that smacks of old-time pedigree whereas Batty is waspish and combative, every grin - and he grins often when he is on top - the possible precursor to something more quarrelsome.

Suggestions that a spinner fast heading towards his 39th birthday should add to his seven Tests, the last of them 11 years ago, naturally invite suspicion, but contenders are conspicuous by their absence and, if England opt for a specialist finger spinner then on this evidence Batty is better than anybody. That he would relish the challenge could be taken for granted.

For the first 40 minutes of the morning, Bell's call to arms was answered, but the loss of three wickets in six overs then told of a laborious day ahead. The nightwatchman Chris Wright backed up too far and Batty threw him out from mid-on with a celebratory speech of triumph. Varun Chopra, Bell's predecessor, whose move to Essex has already been confirmed, edged Mark Footitt's sixth ball of the innings to wicketkeeper Steven Davies. To lose Jonathan Trott, alongside whom Bell stood firm so often for England, was the biggest jolt of all, Stuart Meaker producing a good one to have him caught at the wicket.

Three more wickets fell in the afternoon session, not just Bell, but Laurie Evans, who was forced back by Ansari and had his off-stump knocked out by one that turned. Rikki Clarke fell in the final over before tea, bowled as he offered no shot to Sam Curran. The tail succumbed easily enough after tea, the victory suitably confirmed by Batty when he had Oliver Hannon-Dalby lbw for nought, six Surrey bowlers taking wickets in a strong team display.

Bell was omitted by England after averaging barely 20 in his last 23 Test innings, nine of them single figures. The Warwickshire captaincy seemed a perfect challenge and he has thrown himself into it with gusto. He could have taken quite a narrow role, concentrating on making runs, changing fields and preserving energy to keep his England ambitions alive. Instead, his authority is strikingly wide for a captain. For a player who has not skippered since age-group cricket - apart from a stand-in appearance or two - it must be particularly burdensome.

He is taking a central role in recruitment and was influential in the signing of Olly Stone from Northants, a bowler who - if he stays fit - can bring new verve to their attack. Warwickshire's academy, too, must surely be something that troubles him because he came that way himself, but it has not produced a player of substance for Warwickshire since Chris Woakes a decade or so ago. To lose Woakes regularly now to England - a consummate professional who would naturally buy into his ideas - has been a deserved career progression for Woakes, but ill-timed for Bell as he seeks to implant his beliefs on a squad that is arguably too unwieldy and too set in its ways to respond in the way he wishes.