Cricket: Notts close in on the leaders: Michael Austin reports from Edgbaston

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Notts 415-7 dec and 197-3 dec; Warwickshire 266-8 dec and 229. Nottinghamshire win by 117 runs

ROOKIES ruled as Nottinghamshire put the squeeze on Essex, the Championship leaders, by winning with seven balls to spare in a breathtaking finish last night. They are 33 points behind but have two games in hand.

This was among the bizarre games of the seasons. Warwickshire put in the opposition, narrowly avoided the follow-on, used joke bowlers to foster a target to chase and were 77 for 7 with some inadvertent joke batting in pursuit of 347 from what became 56 overs. Keith Piper made a valiant 62 not out from 112 balls in defeat.

He whom the Piper bowled off-stump had earlier called the tune. That was Tim Robinson, the Nottinghamshire captain, who set the stringent target, geared to an attack lacking Chris Lewis, Chris Cairns, Eddie Hemmings, Andy Pick and Kevin Cooper.

Runs in the bank and kidology prompted even Mark Crawley, at medium pace, to have a hugely flattering four slips and two gulleys, with barely the threat of an edge reaching the outer limits of the ring. Greg Mike, running in vigorously and bowling straight in only his fifth Championship match, and David Pennett in his fourth, were prime performers. Nottinghamshire, having consulted the pitch last Friday, almost paid for lacking the variation of a spinner.

Warwickshire lost six wickets in eight traumatic overs for 17 runs before tea. No one got in, everyone ventured strokes and promptly got out. It was abject batting to a man. There were chips everywhere, as if a reduced Sunday target were being chased.

Piper regained the flute by manipulating the strike skilfully and leading Warwickshire to the brink of a draw but when Mickey Bell was yorked by Evans, Nottinghamshire's fielders did a victory roll because winkling wins like this come no harder.

Paul Johnson's hundred off 66 balls, with considerable enticement from Warwickshire, had faded into the long day's slipstream. So had Robinson's innings of 84, but Piper was proud of bowling him, legitimately, off- stump, his maiden first-class wicket as he threw down the wicketkeeper's gauntlets.

The bottom lines for Nottinghamshire were Pennett's match figures of 6 for 128, Mike's four wickets and a steadying display from Evans, suddenly the senior bowler in a callow attack. Bruce French had nine victims in the match.