Lancashire 247 (Vilas 61, Bohannon 52) and 177 for 5 (Jones 48, Virdi 3-61) need 94 more runs to beat Surrey 211 and 306 (Burns 70)
The absorbing qualities of four-day cricket were to the fore at The Oval as Surrey and Lancashire left an engaged and, thanks to the beer festival, larger crowd bereft of the finish that looked inevitable when Amar Virdi picked up his third wicket at 7.30pm to leave the visitors floundering on 125 for 5, still 146 short of victory with at least 20 overs still to play.
Josh Bohannon, continuing his excellent debut, and Steven Croft defied Surrey's bowlers with admiral resolution to ensure that Lancashire do not, like England, just turn up for the final day to face certain defeat, but rather entertain hopes of the win they so desperately need, with relegation contenders Hampshire and Worcestershire well placed in their matches against Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire respectively.
In truth it's only what we should have expected of a match that has confounded the crystal ball gazers from the opening day. Surrey may well look back on their first innings with enormous regret if Lancashire get over the line. Their 211 was below par for a side that has scored healthily this season, albeit one that is missing Scott Borthwick and Ollie Pope.
The same frailties resurfaced in their second innings. Resuming in perfect conditions on 197 for 4 with a lead of 161 and facing a 57-over-old ball, they hoped to bat until the final session, but the loss of Sam Curran to the 14th ball of the day massively shifted their expectations. Now it was about cobbling together a decent target while taking their innings as deep into the day as possible so as to get maximum benefit from the alchemic combination of new pink ball and floodlights.
Throughout this match no batsman has been able to play a truly substantial innings, Rory Burns' 70 from 139 balls being both the longest and most productive. The trend continued. Just as batsmen looked set, they departed. Ben Foakes edged to Dane Vilas off Tom Bailey for a 115-ball 33 just when it looked like he was achieving some fluency. It was left to Morne Morkel and Jade Dernbach to scramble Surrey towards a defendable total. For the second time in the match they put together a half-century partnership for the ninth wicket and this while Dernbach was struggling with a troublesome groin.
There was some mirth to be had at the sight of Dernbach, a man with a first-class average of 9.13, protecting Virdi from the strike until we finally got to see Virdi face a ball. It was to be his only ball owing to it being of reasonable pace and straight. For Lancashire Bailey, Graham Onions and Joe Mennie were the primary menace with seven wickets between them.
A target of 271 on a pitch that was offering some help to the spinners but no particular assistance to the quicker men gave hope to both sides.
Dernbach bowled one over and limped off. Morkel replaced him from the Pavilion End and Alex Davies launched a brutal attack, marmalising him into the Bedser Stand. The new ball, which Surrey so needed to bring them early breakthroughs was taking a fearful hammering.
The introduction of Virdi changed everything. Davies departed to an inside edge, snaffled by Will Jacks at short-leg. Suddenly Burns could rotate his seamers from one end while Virdi was giving him control from the other. Wickets steadily fell including Haseeb Hameed, trapped lbw for 20; the 15th time this season he has been bowled or leg before.
Virdi would grab two more (and wheel off in elaborate, Imran Tahir-esque celebration on each occasion) to take his season tally to 29, four more than any Surrey bowler managed in the entirety of the 2017 campaign.
But Lancashire were not ready to hand the hosts the satisfaction of ecstatic triumph. Instead they will resume on 177 for 5, requiring 94 to win. What a finish it could be.