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Warwickshire eye survival but concerns for future

Lancashire 152 and 28 for 3 need 319 more runs to beat Warwickshire 219 and 279 for 7 dec (Ambrose 59*, Lilley 3-56)
Scorecard

Whatever the last day has in store, Warwickshire will have to conclude that this has been a let-down of a season, irrespective of the trophy they brought home from Lord's last weekend. They began it as a popular choice among the pundits as the team most likely to derail Yorkshire's bid for a hat-trick of titles, yet have finished it in a relegation scrap with Lancashire.

What's more, it is a youthful, inexperienced Lancashire, a side in its development stage, several years away from reaching maturity. Perhaps Warwickshire are a little too mature, lacking the mental vigour of youth, the appetite for success perhaps having lost a little of its edge. Seven of the side in action here are the wrong side of 30, with Keith Barker not far away.

Barker's contribution has been beyond reproach, comprising 608 runs and 60 wickets - his highest haul yet - and Jeetan Patel has underlined his status as the best spinner in the Championship, despite being pressed hard by Somerset's Jack Leach. Beyond those two, however, there are not many contenders for player of the year.

The new lease of life that Ian Bell perhaps hoped to have drawn from the captaincy has not happened and nor has the England recall of which he retained some hope. Jonathan Trott, about to bare his soul in his new autobiography, has recovered well from his troubled times but not even he could manage 1,000 Championship runs, a milestone well out of reach of everyone else. Sam Hain, the great hope of recent seasons, has taken his overdue chance in white-ball cricket well enough but in the red-ball game by the most generous assessment he has had a year standing still.

If they do survive - and to do so they must win if Hampshire defeat Durham in Southampton - they will at least have avoided slipping into the backwater that will be home to all the other Midlands counties next season. You fear they might be battling against the current again next year, however, unless something happens to shake things up.

Given their experience and the bonus of three wickets in the final hour of day three, you would expect them to get the job done. Their second innings matched the first in producing only one half-century but those who made a start without building on it substantially accumulated enough runs collectively to set Lancashire a real challenge, enabling Bell to set 347 to win in a day plus 18 overs.

Trott, not at his most fluent but still able to produce some lovely drives, appeared to be the one who would come up with the key innings until he was bowled through the gate by offspinner Arron Lilley's second ball, after which Bell was bowled off an inside edge attempting his familiar late cut. But Tim Ambrose stepped up with an unbeaten 59 that held things together. There was not as much turn in the pitch as was anticipated but although there were some batting misjudgments - Alex Mellor, Ian Westwood and Hain all fell offering no stroke - Lancashire kept up to their work willingly and Tom Bailey led the attack with discipline. Lilley finished with 3 for 56.

Those evening inroads, though, have probably swung the balance. Haseeb Hameed survived, but the loss of Rob Jones, trapped in front by Barker, Luke Procter, another to be leg before without playing a shot, and Karl Brown, who feathered a catch to Ambrose off Chris Wright, leaves Lancashire already running out of reliable batsmen, although they will draw some comfort from knowing a draw would be enough for their survival.

As Patel explained, it was enough to give Warwickshire "belief" that they can finish Lancashire off and leave their former coach, Ashley Giles, looking for assistance from Durham to keep a relegation off his CV.

Win or not, Patel agreed that Warwickshire's poor season in four-day cricket needs to be addressed.

"To take those three wickets tonight was very important because it put more pressure on them and gave us a bit of belief," he said. "It is all about tomorrow now , tomorrow is the biggest day of our season. We are in a position where we can win the game and if we can get ruthless and keep pushing and pushing we can knock them over.

"But it is very disappointing to be fighting to avoid relegation because we started the season aiming to win all the competitions.

"It is a tough division but I'm not going to lie - we are down at this end of the table not for that reason but because we just missed key moments.

"I think regardless of the result it will be spoken about and hopefully guys are willing enough and man enough to take it on the chin and say how do I get better because next year will bring the same pressures. People will get better and we've got to get better with them."