Worcestershire 288 for 6 (Whiteley 91, Fell 69, Barnard 63*) vs Surrey
Worcestershire have reached the season's denouement in a familiar predicament but they have one distinction of which they can be at least moderately proud: thus far, they are the only team in Division One this season that Surrey have failed to beat.
Given their respective positions in the table, it would be a surprise were that anomaly not corrected between now and Thursday, by which time Surrey may well have been confirmed as 2018 champions. Since the draw with Worcestershire at The Oval in May, Surrey have won eight in a row, which is an appropriate reflection of how much better they have been than the rest.
In the simplest terms, if Surrey win here and Somerset fail to win at the Rose Bowl the title will be theirs. Indeed, any combination of results that leaves them with at least six points more from this game than their Somerset manage against Hampshire will place them in an unassailable lead.
Worcestershire are in no position not to offer some resistance, though. As things stand, a sixth relegation in the two-division era beckons for the Championship's perennial yo-yo team unless they can beat Surrey this week or Essex next. If they fail to achieve one of them, there is every possibility that their final match against Yorkshire at New Road will merely decide which of two already-relegated teams finishes bottom.
It is a tall order, particularly after it was revealed before play that Ravi Ashwin, who had been scheduled to play the last two matches, would be unable to do so because of the groin injury he sustained during the Test series against England. The possibility of replacing him with Martin Guptill has also been ruled out: the New Zealander, who was also due to play for Worcestershire on T20 finals day at Edgbaston, has a hamstring injury.
But so far, so good for the home side. Surrey declined the option to bowl first but ended up doing so anyway after Worcestershire won the toss and have found their hosts in the mood to battle hard.
Ross Whiteley, typically belligerent, top scored with 91, his highest first-class score in more than three years, and more than half Ed Barnard's unbeaten 63 have been made against the second new ball, but it was Tom Fell's 69 that was arguably the more impressive innings, given that the morning session, under an overcast sky against some hostile bowling from Surrey's formidable seam attack, offered a real test.
It was a session that, after Daryl Mitchell was caught at third slip early on, he and his young partner, Ollie Westbury, did well to get through, although Jade Dernbach, who had made the early breakthrough, was certain he had Fell caught behind to the last ball of the session only for umpire Neil Mallender to turn him down.
Westbury, making his first-class debut after three centuries in the Second XI Championship, was off the mark with a boundary off his third ball and although Morne Morkel gave him some difficult moments he played pretty solidly for his 22, surviving for 82 deliveries until one from Tom Curran beat his defensive push to clip off stump.
An interesting incidental is that Westbury made 196 on his debut for England's Under-19s in 2016 in the same match that Ollie Pope, released from England's senior squad to play here, made his bow.
Curran dismissed Joe Clarke for a third-ball duck, brilliantly caught one-handed at second slip by Rikki Clarke, who then had Fell leg before as he tried to work to leg. When Alex Milton, who has replaced Ben Cox as wicketkeeper for this game with the latter paying for his form with the bat, was caught behind in the 62nd over, Warwickshire were 165-5.
At that point, Surrey seemed to be getting the upper hand, but in the final third of the day Worcestershire re-asserted themselves. Whiteley, looking for his first Championship hundred since July 2015, looked good to pull it off after going to 50 in 78 balls and playing sensibly thereafter, but then Morkel found some extra bounce with the new ball and Pope took a good catch at gully.
Barnard's unbeaten 63 has been a similarly measured innings and Worcestershire will feel they had a pretty decent day in the circumstances, although they will still, one imagines, need to bowl very well to stay in front in the game.