Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
Warwickshire 371 and 52 for 1 lead Lancashire 331 (Bohannon 170, Vilas 67, Norwell 6-57) by 82 runs
It wasn't simply the calendar that suggested the incipient turning of the seasons this morning. There was drizzle in the air and the chalk-white sky reminded us that from now on our many good days will be somehow pilfered from autumn and therefore treasured all the more. Bobble-hats were back in vogue during the pre-match warm-ups although they may have been disguising unfortunate coiffures.
Is it really five months ago that Tom Haines made 155 here, in front of empty stands and in a country creeping fearfully out of isolation? No one gave much thought in that distant April to the divisions that would decide the County Championship. We were simply grateful on those days to have any cricket at all. There was one particular echo of that month this morning at Emirates Old Trafford when Dane Vilas whacked Rob Yates over long-on to reach a first-class half-century for the first time since the game at Canterbury over four months ago.
It would be easy to say that Lancashire's captain is too good a batter to be out of nick for long but then one notices that he is now 36. Even for a cricketer as fit and focused as Vilas the runs will stop flowing at some point but clearly that time has not yet come. This September will be merely a month for him and not a metaphor for anything. Lancashire supporters should hope so at any rate.
But thoughts of Vilas' immense stature at Emirates Old Trafford were secondary, both before and after his busy innings of 67, to the development of perhaps the best uncapped batsman in England at the moment. Josh Bohannon was 59 not out when play began in the morning and had already played with preternatural ease on a pitch where others had been bogged down into strokelessness. This morning Bohannon began again in the studious manner beloved of cricketers like Graham Gooch and Geoff Boycott, but with a few more shots than the latter might have played in a similar situation.
There was a cut to the backward point boundary off Liam Norwell and a lofted drive towards the dressing rooms off Danny Briggs. At no stage in the morning's play were Bohannon's strokes less than precise; indeed, it is difficult to recall him playing and missing. He reached his second century of the season and the third of his career when he pushed Will Rhodes wide of long-on for a couple of runs. By that stage Luke Wells has been bowled by Norwell for 45 and Bohannon had been joined by Vilas, with whom he put on 129 for the third wicket.
During that stand some envisaged Lancashire taking a first-innings lead. That they fell 30 short of that goal was explained by the excellence of Norwell, the second major actor in what was comfortably the most engrossing day of this match. To be specific, the first hour of the afternoon's play absolutely belonged to Warwickshire's bowlers and, in particular, to Norwell, whose second successful new-ball spell began when his extra bounce caused Vilas to edge to Yates at first slip. Two balls later a fast and very straight ball trapped Rob Jones in front and after hitting a couple of fine boundaries Liam Livingstone allowed a ball from Norwell to pass him by only for it to pluck out his off pole a fraction of a second later. George Lavelle's dismissal by Craig Miles and Danny Lamb's by Briggs further hampered Lancashire's search for bonus points and they eventually had to settle for three, meaning that both teams will take 12 points from this match if it is drawn.
Bohannon batted on, his application unaffected by Lancashire's decline to 305 for 7. When Norwell had taken the new ball he played two cover drives off the back foot that were as good as anything seen in the match. He passed 150 and was four short of his career-best 174 when he attempted to smash Briggs into Burnage and was stumped by Michael Burgess. He has now made 729 first-class runs at an average of 66.27 this season but it is the manner of his batting that one remembers and its marriage with an iron determination to carry on doing so when he has a hundred runs against his name.
Dom Sibley trotted up to shake Bohannon's hand as he left the field and so did Norwell, for whom this day was also memorable. The former Gloucestershire fast bowler took the last wicket when he had Matt Parkinson leg before and his figures of 6 for 57 were nothing but his due. This is very much a new-ball pitch but he had laboured hard on it and done more than anyone to ensure his team enters the final day in a position of parity.
There was bright sunlight in the final hour of play and its arrival coincided with Saqib Mahmood knocking out Yates' off stump with a distinctly quick delivery. But Sibley and Chris Benjamin took Warwickshire to close of play in fairly untroubled fashion and a draw is certainly the likely outcome. Perversely, though, the sharp light of evening took one back some seven hours to the first ball of September. Norwell had bowled it to Bohannon, who played it quietly into the covers where Briggs fielded.
Give it a month and such moments will be suddenly precious, their memory cherished on cool mornings when trees are suddenly aflame.