Lord's: The Home of Cricket. Home to the career-bests of Nick Knight and Ian Bell, a Brian Lara classic, a brilliant game from the 1970s and a shocking batting collapse that had a bit to do with the players' desire to get to Ascot races...
Brian Halford looks back on some memorable championship clashes between the Bears and Middlesex at Lord's.
This was the match, in early June, which took the Bears to the top of the First Division table - where they were to remain. It was achieved largely thanks to career-bests by Nick Knight and Ian Bell, the former with the bat, the latter with the ball.
The Bears' total of 608 for seven was constructed around Knight's unbeaten 303. It was not an innings of great beauty, hewn from 644 minutes defiance, but a feat of massive concentration and patience. The captain struck 32 fours on his way to becoming only the fifth player to score a first-class triple-ton at Lord's, just three years after county team-mate Mark Wagh had become the fourth.
With support from Bell (129) and Brad Hogg (71), the skipper assured his team a daunting total in the face of which Middlesex folded for 163 against a swinging ball skilfully wielded by Neil Carter (four for 50) and Bell (4-1-4-4).
The home side batted with greater resolve second time around, Ben Hutton digging in for 126, but an attack of Carter, Bell, Wagh, Dewald Pretorius, Dougie Brown and Naqaash Tahir wore them down. The Bears won by an innings and eight runs and were on the way towards lifting the championship title for the sixth time.
When Ian Bell captains Warwickshire at Lord's on Sunday, it's pretty safe to assume that he will be there in time for the start of play. It's also a fair bet that, before play, he will not be popping out that morning for a game of snooker and a visit to a Turkish Bath.
If only all his predecessors as Bears skipper could be similarly relied upon...
Frank Foster was a brilliant all-rounder - in fact, a strong case could be made that he is the best cricketer ever to play for Warwickshire. The Deritend-born maverick had many assets - destructive batting, deadly left-arm swing bowling, inspiring captaincy. But reliability was not among them.
At Lord's in 1913, he led a Bears team which was on the back-foot from ball one. Middlesex amassed 483 then bowled the Bears out for 329 and dismissed Tiger Smith for a blob just before the close on the final day.
The Bears began the third day on 0 for one, requiring a heroic rearguard action. But if the players were hoping for some stirring pre-play words from the skipper, they were disappointed. There was no sign of him.
They promptly declined to 17 for seven, a miserable collapse during which F.R.F finally arrived in the dressing-room, accompanied by medium-pacer William Hands. The two amateurs had been for a Turkish Bath, then a haircut and shampoo, then popped in for a quick frame of snooker before moseying round to Lord's.
Foster, who usually batted at five, went in at number 11 with the score 33 for nine and slogged an unbeaten 27 before Warwickshire were all out for 63 before lunch. Reports from Arbroath suggested that the appalling collapse, on a good batting pitch, stemmed from a desire to attend that afternoon's racing at Ascot. Several Bears players, two of whom had nice fresh haircuts, were seen heading in that direction...
All attention was on Brian Lara. The West Indian had landed in county cricket in sensational fashion with five successive centuries - could he make it six on the trot, at the home of cricket?
No, he couldn't. But the bacon-and-egg wearers in the famous old pavilion would only have to wait another two days to see some Lara magic.
His quest for a sixth ton on the bounce was delayed first by rain, which wiped out the opening day, and then, on the second day, by young seamer Richard Johnson who secured a fatal edge with Lara on only 27.
The Bears mustered only 211, Trevor Penney top-scoring with 43, before a gruelling six-and-a-half hour century from Michael Roseberry engineered Middlesex a lead of 38. But Lara was not to be shackled a second time. He unfurled a glorious 140 (147 balls) - his sixth century in seven innings and, remarkably, his tenth already in 1994 (it was only May 30!). He struck one six, which ricocheted off the south turret of the pavilion, and 22 fours.
Alongside Paul Smith's 65, Lara's work enabled the Bears to set Middlesex an intriguing target of 259 from 50 overs. Tim Munton got among them with five wickets but the home side was hanging on at 245 for nine at the end of a wonderful match, adorned by Lara's genius.
Middlesex had a mighty side in the late 1970s and early 1980s, sometimes able to field an team of 11 internationals. For the Bears, meanwhile, it was something less than a golden era - but they did triumph in one magnificent match at Lord's in '77. It was a victory built on the skills of two dyed-in-the-wool Brummies.
First, against a bowling attack led by West Indies ace Wayne Daniel and also featuring England trio Mike Selvey, Phil Edmonds and John Emburey, the batting skills of Dennis Amiss towered. On a pitch assisting all the bowlers, he saved his side from ruin in the first innings with a hard-fought 48 out of 205 all out.
Steve Perryman then got busy harnessing the swing that often comes at Lord's when clouds roll in overhead. Perryman unpicked the hosts' experienced batting with 38-11-66-7, although Middlesex were assured a first-innings lead of 32 by Emburey's late onslaught which brought him a typically uncomplicated 48.
Amiss then took root again for 112 in five hours four minutes and, abetted by John Whitehouse (72), took the Bears to 336 for four when the declaration set Middlesex a tough target of 305 in 160 minutes. They raced to 205 for one (Mike Smith 119, Clive Radley 84) but after the latter edged Perryman to Geoff Humpage in the seventh over of the final 20, wickets began to tumble. Perryman and Eddie Hemmings took four apiece and when, in the penultimate over, the former had Daniel snaffled at first slip by Rohan Kanhai for his 11th wicket of the match, the Bears had won an enthralling contest by 34 runs.