Surrey 274 (Solanki 69, Harinath 65, Ponting 52, Rankin 4-43, Barker 4-45) and 234 for 4 (Burns 85) drew with Warwickshire 631 for 9 dec (Chopra 192, Barker 125, Javid 85, Ambrose 84, Westwood 71)

Surrey awoke from the inexplicably ghastly nightmare of losing seven first-innings wickets for 12 runs in 11 overs to secure the draw that at least buys them a bit of breathing space. But with only Derbyshire below them and the halfway stage of the Championship programme almost reached, it is hard to predict anything other than a fight against relegation.

Signings continue to be made. Australia's Glenn Maxwell will arrive for at least part of the T20 programme while Surrey expect to confirm the capture of South Africa's JP Duminy for the last two months of the four-day campaign early next week.

What they need above all else, though, is a Championship victory after seven matches without success. That spirit-lifting outcome was an impossibility here once Warwickshire ploughed on beyond 600. And but for a more disciplined second-innings effort, built around Rory Burns' three-hour occupation, a desperately embarrassing defeat might have ensued.

As it was, the pitch proved simply too bland for Warwickshire to pressurise Surrey into another implosion. The defending champions were further hampered by the absence of fast bowler Chris Wright, who sat out the final day with a flu-like illness, and they could also point to the potentially crucial loss of 37 overs to rain on the third morning.

But unlike Surrey, who were left thanking the heavens for small mercies, the visitors can rightly claim to have taken a good step forward at Woodbridge Road. Their injury list is starting to shorten, with opener Ian Westwood and allrounder Keith Barker not only returning to action here but also making excellent contributions.

Even better, Warwickshire have produced just the batting response coach Dougie Brown wanted after they were routed for 128 and 140, by Yorkshire, on their last outing. Retaining the title looks a tall order right now (they have only one victory from seven matches, compared to four at the same stage last season) but it is not an impossible task by any means.

The Bears were growling all right this morning, having stunned Surrey through the previous evening's Boyd Rankin-inspired burst. And it took them less than half an hour to claim the final three wickets, which left the hosts to follow-on an almighty 357 behind.

Chris Tremlett, defending tentatively on the crease, edged Rankin before Ricky Ponting - deciding he might as well go on the offensive - and Jade Dernbach perished to Barker's left-arm quicks.

On a pitch which had yielded 863 runs for the first 11 wickets, Surrey's last seven had gone down for an undistinguished dozen. No wonder their followers were less than happy and no doubt wishing that next month's forum could be brought forward a few weeks.

At least there was a bit of cheer for the faithful second time around. With nothing more than slow turn to encourage spinners Jeetan Patel and Ateeq Javid, Warwickshire could only prod and probe for weaknesses during lengthy spells.

It was Rikki Clarke, though, who denied opener Burns what would have been a worthy century, finding the outside edge with a real 'effort' ball just before tea. And when Patel claimed a second victim during the early stages of the final session, via Zander de Bruyn's bat-pad catch to silly point, the visitors rightly extended their victory bid well into the final hour.

There was no shifting Ponting a second time, however, and he at least is earning his corn.

As for that elusive first win, Surrey's director of cricket, Chris Adams, insisted: "We've competed in every game without managing to pull it together with both bat and ball for an entire four days. But I don't think we are far away. I feel we are really close to bringing it together and putting in that performance."