Warwickshire 245 for 4 (Malan 141, Sibley 80) vs Worcestershire

Warwickshire haven't had much luck with overseas players this season. With Pieter Malan, the South Africa batter, missing the first three rounds of LV= Insurance County Championship action due to Covid-related travel complications, they signed Hanuma Vihari, instead. And while he produced one important innings of 52 against Essex, he struggled to adapt to the seaming conditions prevalent in early season England and averaged just 16.66 in his three matches.

Carlos Brathwaite, meanwhile, signed for the T20 Blast, contracted Covid-19 and was ruled out of key matches. That led to the club signing Kyle Mayers for the final three games of the T20 group stages, but he missed his first game - a pivotal encounter against Worcestershire a couple of days ago - after a test for the virus proved inconclusive. It left Warwickshire (or Birmingham as they are known in T20 cricket) struggling to qualify for the knockout stages.

Malan had endured a tough time since his arrival, too. Going into this match, his sixth Championship game, he averaged just 15.12 with a highest score of 32. It has been, as he put it, "a learning experience", But it really wasn't what Warwickshire had hoped for.

But here, at last, Malan proved his worth. Feasting upon a true surface and an under-strength attack, he made a high-class century to give Warwickshire a strong platform in the game. Having survived an edge to slip on 5 - replays were not conclusive, but it looked as if the ball had not quite carried to Tom Fell - he scarcely played another false stroke.

It was a timely contribution from Malan in several ways. Not only were Warwickshire in need of a strong performance with the bat to ensure their place in Division One - a high-scoring draw would probably suffice - but Malan is out of contract at the end of the week. He is not, at present, guaranteed to be invited back when the Championship resumes in a couple of months. He flies back to South Africa in a week.

It was hard to imagine his earlier struggles as he dominated here. But on a dry, largely grassless pitch, there was little lateral movement to bother him and, initially at least, the new ball skipped on to the bat in the manner to which he is accustomed in South Africa. Anything short - and lots was short - was pulverised, while he also drove sweetly when the ball was overpitched.

"It's been a learning experience," Malan said. "You sort of need a different technique to do well here and I've built my technique playing on South African wickets. This pitch was a bit drier and the ball came on quite nicely."

Worcestershire, it does have to be said, were oddly accommodating. Not only did they prepare a pitch where barely a ball moved laterally, but they fed his ability on the back-foot with a surfeit of short balls. Really, as he cut and pulled their bowling apart, you wondered if they were planning on laying on a braai after play to ensure he felt completely at home.

There was good news for England, too. Dom Sibley has endured a frustrating season to date, with a finger injury limiting his ability to gain time at the crease. But here he looked increasingly fluent as he helped Malan add 220 for Warwickshire's second wicket and recorded his highest score since February.

He gave one chance, when Daryl Mitchell at slip put him down when he had 24, but otherwise looked in good touch in producing a couple of surprisingly pleasing shots - a back-foot force through the covers being one of the strokes of the day.

Perhaps Worcestershire were a bit unfortunate. The pitch for this match is used - albeit only in the T20 between these sides a few days ago - and they felt it would offer assistance to their spinners. So they rested Charlie Morris and Dillon Pennington (Josh Tongue is injured and may be a doubt for the rest of the season) and handed debuts to Ish Sodhi, the New Zealand legspinner, and Josh Baker, an 18-year-old left-arm spinner who left school (Malvern College) a couple of weeks ago. Losing what may prove an important toss was not ideal. Warwickshire have also given a first-class debut to the left-arm wristspinner, Jake Lintott.

Baker was, by some distance, the pick of Worcestershire's spinners. Introduced into the attack for the 11th over - a nice piece of captaincy from Joe Leach - he didn't gain much turn, but demonstrated impressive control and bowled with the sharpish pace which is pretty much essential for a modern finger-spinner. Late in the day, he also picked up the wicket of Sam Hain with the final delivery before rain brought an early close; a quicker one that slid on with the arm and trapped Hain on the back foot. It was a nice piece of bowling from a young man who looks worthy of further investment.

By then, Warwickshire had also lost Sibley, caught down the leg side, and Malan, caught at slip after an edged pull shot ballooned off his thigh pad. It took a little of the gloss off the day but, with another bonus point around the corner and a fair bit of batting to come, they will hope they are well on the way to the haul they need. If they get there, they will be grateful for Malan's contribution.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo