Warwickshire 200 and 275 for 6 (Ambrose 76*, Sibley 57) trail Lancashire 504 for 8 dec (Livingstone 224, Chanderpaul 95) by 29 runs
They have been a familiar sight for both Warwickshire and England, redoubtable batsmen both, stacking up runs with reliability since the turn of the century. But suddenly when Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott walk to the crease, the question is not how many but how long?
Many England batsmen leave the game quickly after their international career, some like Marcus Trescothick just as predictably bring delight for years as they spread themselves capaciously around the county circuit. Bell and Trott continued beyond England but their future is now harder to call: quite unexpectedly as Warwickshire flounder at the foot of Division One, time is intruding upon their careers. They are in their mid-30s now, but Bell in particular seems to be living through a little hell. It all seems a little premature.
Warwickshire have staved off defeat in three days against Lancashire, but they are still 29 runs behind with only four wickets left and the weather forecast, although a little damp first thing, suggests Lancashire will have ample time to finish the job.
Neither Bell nor Trott could take much personal solace from their part in Warwickshire's close at 275 for 6, organised around Tim Ambrose's third half-century of the season and generally spirited enough considering their first-innings deficit of 304.
Both grandees fell cheaply in an afternoon spell from Ryan McLaren, Lancashire's leading wicket-taker, Trott lbw as he walked across his crease to work a straight ball in time-honoured fashion, Bell more static, but also lbw as one rattled low into his pads. As they returned to the pavilion, Trott with a plod, Bell a little brisker, they could dwell not just on a single dismissal, but upon life and exactly what lies ahead.
As they were dismissed, the thought occurred that they might not even take that walk again, the scarlet of the Old Trafford hotel and The Point at their back; Warwickshire, after all, barring something extraordinary, are bound for the second division, and as for T20 their days may already be behind them - neither are expected to figure in the Birmingham side that will contest NatWest Blast Finals Day at Edgbaston on Saturday.
Their career statistics are remarkably similar - more than 36,000 first-class runs between them, 94 centuries and averages heading towards the mid-40s. Only in the number of Tests played does Bell clearly exceed his team-mate - 118 to 52.
Image had a lot to do with that. Whereas Bell's grace has lightened many a day, if not changing the course of quite so many, Trott has been an admirable yet tough watch. Presented with a barred oak door, Bell would be expected to melt ethereally through it whereas Trott would glower at it meaningfully, work out a way then methodically chip a way through, however long it took.
When they reflect back in years to come, they will probably conclude that Old Trafford 2017 was a rum old do. Bell has just resigned from the Warwickshire captaincy after his omission from the Blast quarter-final, a role he had long cherished and which sadly, when it came, brought him little reward. Having stood down, he somehow needs to summon new ambitions. Trott, a senior pro, helping out, finds himself saddled with a job he could never have imagined himself possessing.
Bell and Trott have never been perceived as a double act, irrespective of their county links. By the time Trott was scoring heavily for Warwickshire, Bell was already a fixture with England. By the time Trott became Andy Flower's rock at No. 3, Bell's England place was a regular source of debate despite periods of prolific scoring. Players of contrasting moods, they might almost have played in a different universe. When Trott batted it was immensely personal, he bared his soul, and, indeed, left a tour of Australia when his it all became too much. When Bell batted, he barely left a mark. You felt you hardly knew him and, at times, wondered how much he knew himself.
Quite how Warwickshire will extricate themselves from all this remains to be seen. Dom Sibley, a mid-season acquisition from Surrey, should bring quality to the top order in all three formats and he made a decent half-century here, his first in the Championship for his new county, before Liam Livingstone, a career-best 224 behind him, extricated Sibley at leg slip as Lancashire made extensive use of his developing offspin.
At tea, Lancashire would have envisaged a three-day win. Matt Parkinson made further inroads on a gorgeous Manchester evening, spoiled only by the sound of over-optimistic Lancashire appealing. Parkinson's legspin removed Matthew Lamb at slip and then drew Keith Barker into an ungainly reverse sweep. Rain is forecast in the morning, but a Lancashire win is forecast just as confidently for the afternoon. About Trott and Bell, it is a risk to make any forecast at all.