Warwickshire 1 for 0 trail Middlesex 242 (Malan 57, Poysden 5-53, Wright 4-41) by 241 runs
If Middlesex, the narrow Division One leaders, are to end their 23-year wait to claim the County Championship title for the 11th time outright they will do so via a difficult route, having to negotiate three away fixtures even before they contemplate a potentially decisive finale against Yorkshire.
Lancashire at Old Trafford, where they secured a draw to avoid relegation only a couple of years ago, will not be easy, and they can expect even hapless Nottinghamshire, where they travel next week, to be fighting for survival. Yet this one might be the biggest test, even though Warwickshire have not won at Edgbaston all season.
They have a depleted side, for one thing. George Bailey has left to join Australia's one-day squad in Sri Lanka, and the expected return of Adam Voges for the title run-in has been blocked by Cricket Australia, who want him to rest after picking up a hamstring injury. Steven Finn remains sidelined with injury, though he is back in training and may feature at Notts. There is no Eoin Morgan, of course, but Ireland's call on Paul Stirling and Tim Murtagh has not been well received.
For another, Warwickshire have prepared a pitch - the same one used for both Twenty20 Finals Day and the 50-over semi-final earlier this week - for turn, selecting both Jeetan Patel and Josh Poysden, the legspinner, who excelled himself by completing his first five-wicket haul even before Patel had claimed one. Middlesex have countered by including Ravi Patel as well as Ollie Rayner and will not have to bat last after taking the optional toss and winning it, but the junior of the two spinners has not played in the Championship all year and, as many a slow bowler will testify, being asked to drop into a team and immediately find your rhythm can be a real test.
Their position on day one, though, is difficult to assess. Sam Robson, whose return from injury was supposed to be the big compensation, fell to his third ball and Nick Gubbins, the young opener who has been the mainstay of their batting, took the single he needed to complete 1000 Championship runs for the season but was out after adding just one more. Dawid Malan managed the only half-century yet and between them the rest managed to eke out what might be a decent first-innings return. Then again, it might not.
Warwickshire had only to face two overs at the close but the second of those was bowled by Rayner, which tells you all you need to know about what Middlesex expect from the pitch on day two. He and Patel can expect to be busy.
Poysden found something in it to his liking on day one. Recalled in preference to seamer Oliver Hannon-Dalby, the 25-year-old eclipsed his previous best - 4 for 85 against Hampshire here on his last appearance in early July - in a performance that was on the whole most impressive, one in which he bowled with good control and variation. His first over, the last of the morning session, was unfortunate for Ian Westwood, who copped a nasty blow fielding at short leg as his team-mate unwittingly fed Malan a long-hop, and the last over of his first proper spell conceded three boundaries, but otherwise he was commendably tidy and allowed no batsmen to feel comfortable.
He turned one away from the left-handed Malan that found the edge to be taken at slip, then dismissed John Simpson at short leg off bat and pad. He had James Franklin leg before with the last ball of the afternoon session, hitting the captain on the toe, and bowled both Steve Eskinazi and Rayner after tea, the former playing round one that Poysden hurried through, the latter almost yorked.
Chris Wright did his damage largely in his morning spells, finding the edge of Robson's bat and taking a very good low return catch when Gubbins failed to control a defensive push. Nick Compton batted solidly for his 33 in a 94-run recovery stand with Malan for the third wicket but then drove loosely at Wright and was well taken by Varun Chopra.
From 100 for 2 to 242 all out, Middlesex might feel they should have done better. Day two will answer that query. Jonathan Trott is in good form, Ian Bell made a match-winning 94 in the 50-over semi-final and Westwood, who made a century against Durham last week, was able to resume after a couple of hours off the field following his mishap - the ball hitting him on the head but thankfully via a deflection off the shoulder that absorbed some of the force.
However, their hand is weakened slightly by the absence of Tim Ambrose, who suffered a muscle injury in the Royal London Cup victory over Somerset. Alex Mellor, who substituted for him in that match, is keeping wicket here in his first senior match for Warwickshire after gaining experience in a loan spell with Derbyshire.