Warwickshire 247 and 2 for 1 need a further 394 to beat Surrey 252 and 390 (Sangakkara 88, Curran 62, Wright 4-75)
Kumar Sangakkara has just returned from helping Jamaica Tallawahs win the Caribbean Premier League. It is a tournament that makes no impact in England, and nor should it with the county season in full swing, although apparently there are people in high office at the ECB who are terrified that if it takes off further it could have a devastating effect on the health of the English game.
Whatever, Sangakkara is back from the badlands and playing his first Championship match for Surrey for two months. He could be forgiven if he was disorientated, struggling to adapt to the demands of life near the foot of Division One, and at 38 he could certainly be forgiven for being a little weary, but he does not do half measures. Wherever he plays, he plays with utter conviction, the transition made without complaint or a hint of unease.
There is a Surrey relegation struggle to address and, for three-and-a-quarter hours, he did just that, his composed 88 pronouncing that all would be well. With a lead of 38 at the start of the day, and nine second-innings wicket remaining, the game was keenly balanced, but Surrey looked secure when they were dismissed shortly before the close, setting 396 to win. Warwickshire, their Championship challenge fading fast, lost Ian Westwood to Tom Curran in the first over and look consigned to batting out the final day. If they fail, they could also be dragged into a widening relegation mire.
Ian Bell, who has come to captaincy late in his career, has not made the weight of runs expected this season as the role has consumed him. "It's been a frustrating three days and couple of weeks actually," he said. "Win this game we are in the mix, lose this game then we have got to fight for the rest of the season to make sure we are still in Division One.
"It's not panic stations but I want the guys to be fighting for Warwickshire. Tomorrow is a day when we go out and bat the day. I hope we have that mind set. It's not about waiting for the next game. It is the most important day we have had this season."
Sangakkara does not just bat, he coaches. At the end of every over, often in the middle of an over, batting methods are underlined, bowlers discussed. The Caribbean one week, the West Midlands the next, and in both his senses are working overtime. When Jason Roy came out to bat, he walked most of the way to meet him, imploring and advising, aware that the game was in the balance.
Thanks to a strikingly short boundary on the Hollies Stand side of the ground, it was possible to study Sangakkara in close up on one of the hottest days of the season as he efficiently dominated the offspin of Jeetan Patel in a match-up that turned the game in Surrey's favour, athough Patel might have had him caught at the wicket, dabbing, on 76. One elderly Warwickshire supporter was armed for the task, seat chosen, sunglasses and cap donned, with his wife trailing unhappily behind in a flowery dress. "This isn't out of the sun," she chided.
As Sangakkara pushed a gentle single, and the sun poured forth its bounty upon him, he tried to ignore the message in the forlorn hope that it not be repeated, but about a minute later (to him it probably seemed longer), predictably it was and together they trudged to the shade at the back of the stand, a lifetime of concessions re-enacted.
The ball had swung on the first two days and the contest had been eagerly contested, but now the batting side held sway. An attritional morning slowly shifted Surrey's way. Rory Burns fell lbw for 49 to a full ball from Oliver Hannon-Dalby, but Stuart Meaker, the nightwatchman lasted beyond lunch in making 41, his highest score in two years, before he was caught behind pushing forward to Patel.
An England tour place in Bangladesh and India awaits any spin bowler able to lay claim to it. Zafar Ansar is one allrounder in the reckoning, although his career has stalled somewhat since a hand injury scuppered his debut tour to the UAE last year. Chris Wright had him caught at the wicket during a decent heat-of-the-day spell, and Ansari will hope to stand out more with the ball on the final day.
Roy played delightfully for 36 before Keith Barker removed both him and Sangakkara to catches at the wicket in consecutive overs immediately after tea. At 263 for 6, Warwickshire had a glimmer of a chance if Surrey's tail fell quickly. Instead, the left-handed pair of Steve Davies and Sam Curran clobbered 102 in 17 overs in an aggressive seventh wicket partnership.
Davies passed 1,000 first-class runs for the season on his way to a chirpy 42 and Curran struck 62 off 56 balls in an innings of delightful improvisation, the most audacious of his three sixes being a one-handed leg-side pick up against Hannon-Dalby. There is no perkier, more talented young cricketer in the country. England should waste no time getting him into the Lions set-up.