Division One leaders Middlesex tasted deep frustration as rain washed out the first two sessions of the final day against Warwickshire at Edgbaston, sentencing their Specsavers County Championship match to a draw.
The rain severely reduced the time Middlesex had to push for a victory which would have taken them a big stride towards lifting their first championship title since 1993.
Having set Warwickshire 338 to win, a difficult target on a turning pitch, Middlesex were strongly-placed going into the last day, needing seven wickets for victory having reduced the home side to 74 for three overnight.
But, to their dismay, the rain which had been forecast to arrive around lunchtime turned up early and washed out the entire first two sessions.
It finally cleared in mid-afternoon, enabling play to begin after tea with a possible 36 overs left. But the home side were holding out comfortably enough on 120 for four when bad light closed in 18.2 overs before the close.
Predictably, when play at last began, Middlesex captain James Franklin turned straight to spinners Ollie Rayner and Ravi Patel and the former provided the breakthrough in the seventh over with a quicker ball which trapped nightwatchman Chris Wright (22, 42 balls, four fours) lbw.
But captain Ian Bell (25 not out, 107 balls, two fours) and Sam Hain (21 not out, 32 balls, three fours) batted vigilantly until the light deteriorated.
The draw keeps Middlesex on top of Division One with three games to play but they could perhaps reflect that their slow scoring with the bat on the third day, with rain emphatically forecast for the fourth, cost them crucial time to make further inroads into Warwickshire’s second innings on the third evening.
Middlesex will begin the final day against Warwickshire at Edgbaston needing seven wickets to take a huge stride towards lifting their first Specsavers County Championship for 23 years.
While nearest challengers Yorkshire were held up by the weather in Southampton, up in Birmingham Middlesex advanced to a position from which they would be devastated not to close out victory.
Warwickshire closed the third day on 74 for three in pursuit of the target of 338 set by the Division One leaders when they declared their second innings at 267 for seven at tea.
Half-centuries from Sam Robson (74, 218 balls, five fours) and Stevie Eskinazi (53, 108 balls) underpinned Middlesex batting which was largely unhurried despite the possibility of rain-damage on the final day.
They have backed their bowlers to feed again upon the fragility evident in Warwickshire’s first-innings batting when their last eight wickets disappeared for 50 runs. Those bowlers duly removed the top three – Varun Chopra, Ian Westwood and Jonathan Trott – before the close to leave Warwickshire requiring a massive salvage operation in which they will look to captain Ian Bell, unbeaten on 12 overnight, for the backbone.
Resuming on the third morning on 61 without loss, Middlesex lost two quick wickets as Nick Gubbins (46, 68 balls, six fours) fell lbw to Jeetan Patel and Nick Compton’s middle-stump was plucked out by Keith Barker.
Dawid Malan edged Patel to wicketkeeper Alex Mellor but Robson and Eskinazi batted in measured fashion to add 97 in 33.4 overs before, with tea looming, a belated attempt to increase the tempo brought a flurry of wickets for the spinners.
Robson swept Patel to deep square-leg and Eskinazi was bowled by Josh Poysden who also castled Toby Roland-Jones (21, 17 balls) and had John Simpson caught at deep gully. The young leg-spinner finished with three for 80 for match-figures of eight for 133.
Chasing 338 in a day and a session, Warwickshire soon lost Chopra who edged Roland-Jones to Robson at slip. On a used pitch which has assisted spinners throughout, the slower bowlers were soon operating and both quickly struck. Ravi Patel’s 19th ball trapped Trott lbw and Rayner won a leg-before against Westwood to acquire his sixth wicket of the match.
Bell and nightwatchman Chris Wright saw it through to the close but Middlesex left the field knowing they have done 82.7% of the hard work towards a huge victory.
Middlesex showed the resolve, ruthlessness and skill of potential champions as they seized control on the second day of their Specsavers County Championship match with Warwickshire at Edgbaston.
Ollie Rayner’s five for 49, his tenth five-for in first-class cricket, sent the home spinning all out for 172, earning the Division One leaders a first-innings lead of 70 which looks decisive with Warwickshire to bat last on a turning pitch.
The game was evenly-balanced in mid-afternoon with the home side, replying to 242, advancing slowly but steadily at 122 for two, but lurched Middlesex’s way as four wickets fell for six runs in 40 balls.
The catalyst for the collapse was the fall of Ian Westwood whose excellent 81 (185 balls, 11 fours) was ended by a run out after a bad call by Ian Bell. The last eight wickets then fell for 50 against the spin of Rayner and Ravi Patel (two for 54).
By the close, Middlesex reached 63 without loss, 133 ahead overall, to strengthen their stranglehold on a day which suggested they are more than ready to handle the pressures of a title-race run-in with champions Yorkshire.
For Warwickshire, meanwhile, there remains a nagging fear that they will be sucked into a relegation scrap after a mystifyingly collapse. They resumed in the morning on one without loss and reached 75 for two at lunch, Varun Chopra and Jonathan Trott having edged fine balls from Harry Podmore and Toby Roland-Jones respectively.
Westwood was resolute, though, despite still being in discomfort from taking a full-blooded pull in the neck at short-leg the previous day and was heading towards a second century in successive championship matches when he was torpedoed by an unexpected source.
Bell called for a single to mid-on that was never there and Westwood was left high and dry, unable to regain his ground with bowler Rayner in his way.
Six overs later, it was 128 for six. Patel had Sam Hain taken at slip and Bell (19, 100 balls, one four) caught behind and Rayner snared Rikki Clarke lbw.
Alex Mellor and Keith Barker added 24 but, after tea, Rayner rifled through the lower order with four wickets in 16 balls. Barker (22, 34 balls) edged to the wicketkeeper, Jeetan Patel had his middle-stump knocked back first ball and Chris Wright and Josh Poysden sent catches to short leg and mid-wicket respectively.
In contrast to that clatter, Nick Gubbins and Sam Robson added an unbroken 63 in 22 overs before the close to cement their side’s superiority.
Middlesex’s ambitions of lifting the Specsavers County Championship title for the first time since 1993 were jolted by Warwickshire leg-spinner Josh Poysden on the opening day at Edgbaston.
Poysden, playing only his ninth first-class match, took a career-best five for 53 as Middlesex, having chosen to bat, were bowled out for 242.
Against a Warwickshire attack fired up to earn the win they need to secure their Division One status, that was plenty fewer than the league-leaders envisaged when they chose to bat.
But having seen 25-year-old Poysden extract turn from the pitch on the first day, Middlesex will be optimistic about what their two spinners might do as the match lengthens and Warwickshire, who closed on one without loss from two overs, have to bat last.
The visitors soon hit turbulence as former Middlesex paceman Chris Wright struck twice in his first 13 balls, Sam Robson edging to slip and Nick Gubbins offering a sharp, low return-catch.
Nick Compton (33, 105 balls, four fours) and Dawid Malan (57, 110 balls ten fours) dug in, the latter scoring just five from his first 50 balls, to add 88 in 26 overs but were parted when Compton edged to slip.
Poysden then widened the breach with two quick wickets as Malan edged to slip and John Simpson bat-padded to short-leg to leave Middlesex 134 for five.
Stevie Eskinazi and James Franklin halted the collapse with a stand of 56 but Poysden returned to snare both of them in five balls either side of tea. He trapped Franklin lbw with the last ball before the interval and bowled Eskinazi (49, 90 balls, seven fours) in his first over after it. When Ollie Rayner was deceived by flight and bowled, the former Sussex spinner had his five-for.
Toby Roland-Jones turned Jeetan Patel to leg-slip and Wright finished with four for 41 after returning to have Harry Podmore caught at second slip with the new ball to wrap up the innings.
With Tim Ambrose ruled out by a buttock strain, wicketkeeper Alex Mellor is playing his first championship game for Warwickshire – his third in all after playing two for Derbyshire on loan. Ambrose is expected to be fit for the Royal London Cup final against Surrey on September 17.
Middlesex, meanwhile, hope England paceman Steven Finn, who did some bowling in the middle before play began, will be fit to rejoin their title push against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge next week.