Rob Yates takes Warwickshire’s title fight with Lancashire to final day

There is one more day of the title race to run and, provided nerves have settled sufficiently, it may be that a good few Lancashire supporters make the trip down the M6 from Aigburth to Edgbaston, take advantage of free entry and lend their voices to the Somerset faithful.

Warwickshire can still snatch the title but will need a near-perfect performance to do so. The Bears will resume on 179 for 1, leading by 157 runs, and must continue the aggression displayed by Rob Yates, Dom Sibley and Will Rhodes on the third evening if their bowlers are to have a sniff of claiming 10 wickets.

Sibley fell before the close, the recently deposed England opener caught at deep point for a 69-ball 50 that featured two of the 11 sixes he has now struck in his first-class career. But Yates was unbeaten on 72 from 119 and in the final 30 minutes Rhodes smoked a 29-ball 42, signing off the day by launching his opposing captain, Tom Abell, over the square leg boundary.

It will be hard going for Warwickshire on a pitch that has yielded 21 wickets in three days and on which Somerset posted 389 for a 22-run lead. Lewis Gregory compiled a disciplined 68 before being trapped lbw by Chris Woakes on the stroke of lunch, with frustration for the hosts then coming in the shape of a 56-run ninth-wicket stand from Jack Leach and Josh Davey.

Leach was overlooked by the England Test team all summer on account of perceived shortcomings with the bat. But here the left-hander delivered a resolute 49 over the course of three hours, an innings pockmarked with some impish uppercuts and a slogged six off his fellow left-arm spinner Danny Briggs. Like at Headingley in 2019, those glasses were cleaned a few times too.

When Davey walked out with Leach after lunch, Somerset were 325 for 8 and Warwickshire had 22 balls in which to claim a ninth wicket for what might have proved a crucial third bowling point had Hampshire prevailed in Liverpool. Instead the pair held firm for 27.1 overs until Briggs, bowling into the sparse footmarks of an otherwise true surface, teased an edge off Leach to slip.

With Davey’s two-hour vigil finally ended by Woakes on 16 – a third wicket for the England all-rounder, but at a cost of 100 runs – an early tea was called, presenting Warwickshire’s openers with 36 overs in the warm September sunshine to get their innings off to a flying start.

The presence of Sibley may have surprised some but, certainly at this level, the right-hander has more than one gear. Somerset’s bowlers did not exactly cover themselves in glory but some of the shots were of the highest quality, not least when Sibley shuffled down to the pitch and whipped Davey over the rope at deep backward square.

Yates, whose three centuries have led the way for Warwickshire this summer, kept the ball along the ground. His nine fours were crisply struck and, with a temperament that belies his 22 years, it’s easy to see why England are considering him for the Lions squad that shadows the Ashes this winter. Rhodes, looking to become the first Warwickshire captain to lift the trophy since Jim Troughton in 2012, simply ignited the afterburners before stumps and after walking off spoke of the “excitement” among his players.

Continue this first thing and the fingernails of any Lancastrians who make the trip will get little respite.