Worcestershire restored a measure of self-esteem by passing their first-innings total with only one wicket down yesterday after Warwickshire gave themselves seven sessions to win this match and clinch the County Championship but it was impossible to see their second innings as anything but an exercise in delaying the inevitable.
Warwickshire's declaration at 471 for 8 left Worcestershire, trailing by 411, needing to exceed their highest total of the season by 71 even to require Warwickshire's openers to pad up again. On a pitch that has never been entirely comfortable for batting, even when Varun Chopra was making 195, it will require enormous resolve for Worcestershire to take the match into a fourth day.
Given that the title eluded Warwickshire last year when it was theirs to win, albeit in different circumstances, director of cricket Ashley Giles was reluctant to presume anything last night. His side were favourites to pip Lancashire last season, but after reaching the final day needing seven wickets to beat Hampshire at the Rose Bowl they could take only four.
"I don't like to talk about winning the title before it happens because I did that last year and it didn't happen," Giles said. "We have a better chance than last year in that we have two days left rather than one and we were facing a strong Hampshire batting line-up on a good pitch.
"But we just have to be patient and get the job done and then we'll celebrate. I didn't sleep a lot last night and I don't suppose I will tonight."
Warwickshire's first objective yesterday was to secure four batting points, which they did with seven balls to spare. It means that with a win they cannot be caught. Still there at that point was Chopra, whose impressive performance did his personal prospects no harm as well as putting his team in a seemingly impregnable position.
The 25-year-old right-handed opener made a double hundred on this ground last season and though he fell five runs short this time, bowled missing a drive off the medium pace of Joe Leach, he had done more than enough to confirm to national selector Geoff Miller, who was at Headingley to watch Joe Root on Tuesday, that he should be on the list of candidates to replace Andrew Strauss in the England side.
Chopra is the fourth batsman to pass 1,000 runs for the first-class season, following Nick Compton – another on Miller's list – Chris Rogers and James Hildreth.
Chopra's departure might have been the cue for Warwickshire to pull out but Jim Troughton, the captain, clearly fancied a 400-plus lead and Ian Blackwell (84) and Keith Barker obliged him by smashing 80 off the next 13 overs.
Barker then took his 52nd wicket of the season as Phil Hughes surrendered without a run on the board, flailing at a widish ball that was well caught at third slip. Worcestershire had more backbone than to collapse in another heap and were 100 for 2 at the close but Warwickshire's title – and their relegation – is only a matter of time.