Essex 69 for 0 trail Warwickshire 201 (Sibley 76, Porter 4-62, Harmer 4-47) by 132 runs
Like lifts passing in opposite directions, Essex and Warwickshire are destined to conflicting emotions at the end of this season.
While Essex, going into this round of games 36 points clear of second-placed Lancashire, look all but certain to finish as County Champions for the first time since 1992, Warwickshire are doomed to life in Division Two for the first time since 2008. Both eventualities could be confirmed in this round of games.
If Essex do go on to clinch the trophy - the first time a promoted side will have done so since Nottinghamshire in 2005 - it is a success that will be celebrated far beyond the county's own boundary. They have shown what can be achieved by building their revival on the skills of locally-developed players - even without Alastair Cook, eight of this side could be so described - with a shrewd Kolpak signing filling a hole when it comes to spin-bowling talent.
By doing so they have not only provided opportunities for England-qualified players to develop - and several of this Essex side could have England careers ahead of them - but improved the standard of the county game. They have, in short, almost perfectly fulfilled the role of county clubs. They gain full-houses for their home T20 matches, too.
Essex took a firm stride towards their desired destination on the first day of this game. Taking advantage of an early start (10.30am for September matches), a fresh surface and a batting line-up lacking confidence, they had Warwickshire two down within the first 15 deliveries and never relented. Had Dominic Sibley, the one man to pass 37 in the Warwickshire innings, been held at slip on 2 - as he should have been - Essex might already have a first innings lead.
As it is, that may have to wait until early afternoon. But the comfort with which they started their reply wasn't just due to the easing nature a pitch that may have dried out as the day progressed, but the difference in confidence between these sides. Essex expect to win; Warwickshire know they are relegated.
It was Simon Harmer who dropped Sibley, but he more than made amends. Bowling the sort of spell that would have him pushing hard for England selection if he were qualified, he harnessed a surprising amount of turn (this pitch has not been used previously this season) allied to some admirable accuracy and well-controlled variation. He has, no doubt, benefited this season from the footholes provided by playing with a couple of left-arm seamers - but here, without much assistance from that, he troubled all the batsman and was largely responsible for Warwickshire losing their last six wickets for 48 and their last five for 20.
But it was Jamie Porter who made the key breakthroughs at the start of the day. Bowling from slightly wide of the crease, he pushes the ball into the batsman but looks for away movement rendering it hard to leave him and dangerous to play. He also hits the seam often and bowls wonderfully, relentlessly full and straight. It is no coincidence that Essex claimed seven leg-before dismissals; one more would have equalled the first-class record. Porter is currently, with 61, the leading wicket-taker in the division. He and Harmer (59) are the only men in Division One with 50 wickets.
Porter's first spell set the tone for the day. He punished both Sam Hain (preferred to the dropped Andy Umeed) and Jonathan Trott for falling to the off side with straight deliveries and should have had Sibley caught in the slips with one that left him. Later he punished Keith Barker for playing across one before Sibley, left only with the No. 11, dismissed any thought of trying to carry his bat in a selfless attempt to hit a few quick runs. An edged drive was his reward.
Should Porter be in consideration for an Ashes place? His skills are timeless and universal, so he would not let England down. The lack of height or pace is a concern, though, and pitches in Australia are unlikely to offer this sort of assistance. Besides, England may consider they are already well-served by fast-medium seamers in the presence of James Anderson. Porter seems unlikely to make the trip.
For a while it seemed Ian Bell might be on the brink of a long overdue return to form. Certainly he timed a few strokes, notably a pair of cover drives off Neil Wagner, beautifully. But, having made his highest score for 10 first-class innings, his planted front foot was struck by a fine inswinger from the same bowler.
Meanwhile Matt Lamb, having fought well for a time, hung his bat out at one from Sam Cook, before Chris Woakes was beaten by a quicker one from round the wicket that held its line, Alex Mellor (playing instead of Tim Ambrose, who hurt his neck in training on Monday) left a straight one, Jeetan Patel played across another, though replays suggested he was unfortunate, and debutant Henry Brookes was bowled through the gate.
The fact that 18-year-old Brookes is playing - he was preferred to Chris Wright and playing instead of Olly Stone, who has a bruised heel after Finals Day - speaks volumes for Warwickshire's situation. After a few years where the squad was allowed to stagnate, the club is now aggressively - desperately, even - pursuing a more youthful policy. That Brookes is the 24th man to represent them in first-class cricket this season and the 30th in all first-team cricket (the likes of Ed Pollock, Adam Hose and Aaron Thomason have not featured in the first-class team) suggests they are none too sure about the identity of the next generation, but know they have to find it.
One of the next generation will, no doubt, be Sibley. There was little pretty about this innings, but it demonstrated the virtues of great application, leaving well and playing straight. Without him Warwickshire would have been routed.
It will have rubbed salt in the wounds of Warwickshire supporters that Varun Chopra, who could easily still be playing for the club, looked so accomplished in reply. It's going to take a few years to turn things around at Edgbaston. They could find the climb out of Division Two slippery and steep.