Worcestershire 288 for 6 (Whiteley 91, Fell 69, Barnard 63 *) vs Surrey
Worcestershire has reached the end of the season in a family situation, but they have a distinction of which they can be at least moderately proud: so far, they are the only team in Division One this season that Surrey has not been able to beat.
Given their respective positions at the table, it would be a surprise if the anomaly was not corrected between them. now and on Thursday, at which time Surrey may well have been confirmed as the 2018 champion. Since the draw with Worcestershire in The Oval in May, Surrey has won eight in a row, which is an appropriate reflection of how much better they have been.
In simple terms, if Surrey wins here and Somerset fails to win at the Rose Bowl, the title will be his. In fact, any combination of results that leaves them with at least six more points in this game than their handling of Somerset against Hampshire will place them at an unattainable advantage.
Worcestershire is not in a position not to offer some resistance, however. As things stand, a sixth relegation in the era of the two divisions attracts the perennial yo-yo team of the Championship unless they can beat Surrey this week or Essex later. If they do not manage one of them, there is a good chance that their final confrontation against Yorkshire on New Road will simply decide which of the two teams already relegated ends.
It's a difficult task, particularly after it was revealed before playing that Ravi Ashwin, who had been scheduled to play the last two games, could not do so because of the groin injury he suffered during the test series against England. The possibility of replacing him with Martin Guptill has also been ruled out: the New Zealander, who would also play for Worcestershire in the T20 final in Edgbaston, has a hamstring injury.
But so far, it's so good for the home side. Surrey declined the option to play first, but ended up doing so anyway after Worcestershire won the draw and found their hosts willing to fight hard.
Ross Whiteley, typically belligerent, improved with 91, his best first-class score in more than three years, and more than half of Ed Barnard's unbeaten 63 have faced the second new ball, but it was 69 Tom Fell was possibly the most impressive, given that the morning session, under a cloudy sky against some hostile bowling of the formidable sewing attack of Surrey offered a real test.
It was a session that, after Daryl Mitchell was caught in the third pitch from the start, he and his young partner, Ollie Westbury, did well to pass, although Jade Dernbach, who had made the early advance, was certain that he had caught Fell until the last ball of the session only for referee Neil Mallender to reject him.
Westbury, making his first-class debut after three centuries at the Seco nd XI Championship, was out of place with a limit on his third ball and although Morne Morkel gave him some tough times, he played very solidly for his 22 years , surviving for 82 deliveries until one of Tom Curran overcame his defensive pressure to cut the stump.
A fortuitous fact is that Westbury made 196 in his debut with under-19s in 2016 in the same game in which Ollie Pope, released from England's senior team to play here, made his bow.
Curran fired Joe Clarke a third-ball duck, brilliantly caught with one hand on the second slip by Rikki Clarke, who had a fallen leg before while trying to work on the leg. When Alex Milton, who replaced Ben Cox as wicketkeeper for this game and the latter paid for his shape with the bat, was trapped in 62nd place, Warwickshire was 165-5.
At that time, Surrey seemed to be getting the advantage, but in the last third of the day Worcestershire reaffirmed himself. Whiteley, looking for his first Championship since July 2015, looked good to take it out after going to 50 in 78 balls and playing sensibly thereafter, but then Morkel found an extra bounce with the new ball and Pope had a good catch in the ravine.
The undefeated Barnard 63 has been a similar possibility and Worcestershire will feel that they had a pretty decent day given the circumstances, although even so, one imagines, they need to play very well to stay ahead in the game.