Warwickshire 152 for 4 (Rhodes 53*, Trott 47) trail Middlesex 236 (Fuller 71, Holden 48, Hannon-Dalby 3-41, Sidebottom 3-34, Wright 3-48) by 84 runs
It's mid-season, the Championship is back, and it's time for cricketers the length and breadth of the country to change their identity. On Friday night they are Twenty20 cricketers, brash smart alecks the lot of them; on Sunday morning they are back to the four-day grind with nothing more than a Saturday morning lie-in in between. They've spent the past few weeks exploring the distant horizon, telling themselves anything is possible. Now reality is back.
Warwickshire did not just change formats over the weekend, they changed their name and half their side. They edged the first day but not by much, finishing 152 for 4, a deficit of 84, held together by a battling unbeaten half-century by Will Rhodes, his fourth of the season, who pushed a few false strokes to the back of his mind and dug in gamely.
At lunchtime, outside the Bread Shop on St John's Wood High Street, a man enquired with infinite politeness about the lunchtime score and seemed relieved to have found a fellow enthusiast. "Middlesex are 101 for 7." In the interest shown in that one sentence, there is so much investment in life. But it sounded like a bad day and there followed a look of resignation with the thank-you. Middlesex's change of identity had not begun well.
The Bread Shop specialises in spelt, an ancient grain, a sub-species of wheat, which its advocates claim regulates metabolism, aids in the creation of sex hormones, increases circulation, build strong bones, boosts immunity and counters the swinging ball. Well, maybe not the last one. But Middlesex need some spelt; too often this season they have looked as unappetising as a mass-produced white loaf.
After the length of a T20 innings, Middlesex were 80 for 7. In place of the white ball, which lives its life in straight lines, the red ball hooped around corners, behaving - as Marilyn Manson once optimistically described life - as a bucket of mystery.
Oliver Hannon-Dalby, a spindly fellow who walks around the outfield in a stately off-white sunhat like an Edwardian gentleman, swung the ball in to hit the stumps of two left-handers, Nick Gubbins, a superb delivery, and Eoin Morgan, who left a considerable gate; Chris Wright found lift to find the edge of Paul Stirling (promoted to opener without conspicuous success) and Stevie Eskinazi, and there were slip catches, too, to bring wickets for Ryan Sidebottom as John Simpson and James Harris followed. Middlesex lost six wickets for 25 in 55 balls.
Considering that Middlesex need something spectacular to return to Division One, this deepened their predicament. Pre-season favourites for the Division two title, they began the second half of the season 45 points adrift of the top two. Their defeat against one of the top teams, Kent, was followed by the departure of their head coach Richard Scott. Against the leaders, Warwickshire, at Lord's, it was very much a case of now or never.
Not every Warwickshire bowler had a satisfying day. Chris Woakes is seeking to build up his rhythm ahead of the India series after hamstring trouble, but he disappeared at more than five an over, becoming increasingly frustrated by a series of refused lbw appeals.
James Fuller, fresh from his six wickets in the Blast at the Ageas Bowl on Friday night, benefited from most of them. He registered only his fifth first-class half-century and his first for two years, batting at No 9, a spelt-laden affair as he shared stands of 86 with Max Holden and 51 with Ollie Rayner. His redoubtable resistance included a six over midwicket against Woakes and a curious advance to fly swat him down the ground, not altogether appreciated by the bowler. He was last out to a full toss from Hannon-Dalby.
Middlesex supporters have not lost a sense of decorum as their season refuses to catch fire. The fall of Warwickshire's first wicket brought in Ian Bell who now invites the ripple of gratitude afforded to all prominent England players presumed to be of past vintage.
Those whose career may be most spent (although Bell, in the form he is in, could easily play past 40) are keenly watched. The squat onto his haunches before he faced the first ball was familiar and why does he look around to fine leg as his final act? Was he once out hooking first ball in the days when he shaved once a week? If not, what does he expect to see there? An ice cream van? A group of clowns heading to a children's party? An open sewer which might potentially be a hazard to life and limb?
From the first ball, he on-drove Harris sumptuously; from the third, his off-drive was crisp and clean. Even his play-and-miss in between felt like a practice shot. But in the next over, Tim Murtagh mesmerised him with one that held its line up the hill. The day gave way instead to Rhodes, and Jonathan Trott and a hard-won Warwickshire advantage.