YORKSHIRE came within a whisker of making Warwickshire follow-on amid dramatic scenes at Edgbaston.
Responding to Yorkshire’s 213, the home side crashed from 35-3 to 37-9 as pace bowlers Ryan Sidebottom and Jack Brooks ran riot.
Needing to reach 64 to avoid being asked to bat again, with a team able to enforce the follow-on in a Championship match if they lead by 150 runs or more, Warwickshire somehow scrambled to 69 all out.
Rikki Clarke, the No 8, top-scored with 28 from 42 balls, including three fours and a six, and a potentially humiliating fate for the hosts was averted.
Not that it is likely to save them from a defeat that would almost certainly end their title aspirations, as well as rubber-stamp Yorkshire as champions-elect.
Only the weather is threatening to do that, with a dicey forecast for the rest of the game.
The way Yorkshire are playing at the moment, however, they could probably declare on their current second innings score of 125-1, which has given them a lead of 269, and still win the match in just a few hours.
The point is this: the champions may only need a limited amount of playing time to achieve their sixth Championship win of the season, and their fourth in succession, while the weather forecast is probably wrong anyway.
Compared to the drama of yesterday afternoon, the morning session was a non-event owing to rain.
Only nine balls were possible as Warwickshire advanced from 11-2 to 18-2, although there was a richly evocative flick to the mid-wicket boundary by Jonathan Trott off Sidebottom which bore the unmistakable hallmark of quality.
When play resumed at 1.45pm, with 24 overs lost from the day’s allocation, Trott repeated the feat off the left-armer, who was then sweetly timed to the mid-wicket boundary by the left-hander Ian Westwood.
Cue the sudden clatter of wickets.
To Sidebottom’s next delivery, Westwood inexplicably raised his bat and was bowled – the second man to experience that fate after Varun Chopra shouldered arms to the opening ball of the innings.
Even more dramatic than Westwood’s demise was that of Laurie Evans, whose off stump was spectacularly flattened by Sidebottom as he played down the wrong line.
Incredibly, it was the first of five wickets to fall with the score on 35, coincidentally Warwickshire’s lowest total against Yorkshire in first-class cricket – at Birmingham in 1963 and at Sheffield in 1979.
When Sam Hain was caught at third slip by Jack Leaning and Peter McKay lbw, Warwickshire were 35-6 and Sidebottom had all of the wickets.
From the very next ball, sent down by Brooks from the City end, Sidebottom’s chances of a 10-wicket bag were ended when his partner had Trott caught at third slip by Leaning.
Brooks followed up by having Jeetan Patel caught behind for a duck and Boyd Rankin held at first slip by Alex Lees for another nought, with six Warwickshire batsmen registering ducks.
At that stage, with only one wicket left, Warwickshire were still 27 shy of avoiding the follow-on and one would not have completely ruled out a two-day finish.
But Clarke decided that the only form of defence was attack, and he played a wonderfully incongruous shot in the circumstances when he smashed Sidebottom for six high over mid-wicket.
After a little more swinging and luck-riding, Clarke took Warwickshire past the all-important figure of 64 when he flicked Tim Bresnan for four off his legs – a stroke that prompted ironically euphoric shouts of “You Bears, You Bears” from the home support.
Finally, Clarke misjudged one from Steve Patterson and the Warwickshire deficit was 144.
Sidebottom finished with 6-34 and Brooks 3-14, while Clarke was one of only three men to reach double figures.
Warwickshire’s total was the lowest against Yorkshire in a Championship match since Nottinghamshire were ejected for 59 at Trent Bridge five years ago. It was Warwickshire’s lowest Championship score for 29 years, and their lowest at Edgbaston for 33.
There were seven overs left until tea, and Alex Lees and Will Rhodes negotiated them without alarm to take their side into the break on 15-0.
After the interval, and as the floodlights beamed down as though we were at nearby Villa Park on a winter’s evening, Yorkshire rubbed salt into gaping wounds. Lees and Rhodes added 58 for the first wicket – a hard-fought stand ended when Lees was well caught at first slip by Chopra off Clarke.
Rhodes had advanced to a splendid 53, his maiden Championship half-century, reached from 115 balls with six fours, and Leaning to 28 by the time play ended, with Yorkshire firmly in command.