Worcestershire strike force earns first victory
New Road (day 3 of 4): Worcestershire 176 (B F Smith 60) & 279 (B F Smith 71, D K H Mitchell 70) v Essex 116 (S P Jones 4-14) & 264 (R S Bopara 85, S P Jones 4-41, Kabir Ali 4-64)
Worcestershire (17pts) beat Essex (3pts) by 75 runs .
Kabir Ali, Simon Jones and Steve Magoffin will enjoy a well-earned day off today after proving that they spearhead the most potent bowling attack in Division Two of the championship.
They dismissed Essex, twice winners in the competition so far this season, with a day to spare to secure their first win of the season and the first since August last year but were docked three points for a slow over-rate.
The result lifts them to fourth in the division, level on points with Essex, and both have a match in hand on the division’s leaders. No-one can say a Pears win has not been on the cards. They have not so much been knocking on the door but hammering it down. The records of Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire have all been protected by rain-affected games.
The win had always seemed likely seeing as Worcestershire had posted a target of 340 with a day and the best part of three sessions remaining - but a sterling 111-run partnership between Ravi Bopara (85, 126 balls, 12 fours) and James Foster, (43, 113 balls, four fours, one six) made life difficult. Foster was dropped twice, which made it even more difficult.
Bopara showed why he is worthy of his place in the England one-day squad. He batted beautifully before being trapped by a vicious off-cuttter from Magoffin, a ball worthy of dismissing the most free-scoring and in-form batsman. Bopara was both of those yesterday.
It was Kabir who ripped the heart out of Essex’s top order, just as he had in the first innings. He took three for 16 off five overs in his opening spell, which was frightening at times. Word has it that the national selectors remain concerned about the bowler’s fitness - but the manner in which he bounded in from 50 yards and bowled with real bite suggests fitness is not the issue.
If there is a new-ball bowler in county cricket who produces as many fierce deliveries as Kabir, then he was not named in the England squad. This was four-day cricket, of course, but played at one-day pace.
Kabir said: “We were pretty happy in the dressing-room with 340 to bowl at. We think we have one of the strongest bowling attacks in the division, and there are quite a few strong ones about, and we were confident of bowling them out on this pitch.
“I was pleased with the way we played. It [the win] has been coming. We have whole days rained off so far this season which has been frustrating.
“From a personal point of view, I enjoy using the new ball. This wicket was rewarding bowlers who were willing to bend their backs so we had to concentrate on putting it in the right areas.”
Worcestershire had entered the third day after one of consolidation, which had begun on Saturday with Jones making light work of a lingering tail - two wickets in two balls - once he was introduced into the attack after 13 minutes.
Worcestershire led by 60 and cemented their advantage without doing anything spectacular. After being dropped off his third ball at short leg by Chopra, Ben Smith (71, 133 balls, seven fours), went on to score his second half-century of the match.
He was well-supported by Daryl Mitchell, whose 70 (171 balls, six fours), his first championship half-century of the season, took him past 1,000 first class runs. More importantly, it was exactly what his team needed to temper a spicy first day in which 17 wickets fell.
Steve Davies, resuming on 228 for five, was the first wicket to fall yesterday when he chopped one on.
Magoffin, Batty and Ali did not hang around long but a few hearty hacks and swipes from Jones and Chris Whelan helped Worcestershire to a psychologically pleasing total.
But the day was never about how Worcestershire’s tail wagged, it was always going to be about Essex’s fight for survival.
The wicket of Bopara would be crucial and Worcestershire were greatly helped by too much being asked of him. The visitors’ top three survived a combined total of only 42 balls. Jason Gallian was bowled, Tom Westley edged to gully and Verun Chopra was nearly beheaded just before lunch but wisely gloved it to Davies to leave Essex 38 for three at the interval.
Captain Pettini hung around for more than an hour for his 11 before he fell to tidy work from Davies down the leg side off Whelan.
Shot-a-ball Ryan ten Doeschate did not hang around for his ten and was picked up at second slip by Hick off Jones, who ended with match figures of eight for 55.
The Welshman should take on the moniker of Tailend Terminator given the ruthless efficiency and impatience he shows in dismissing them. He took two in two balls to end Essex’s first innings and did not waste much time in getting rid of Tudor, bowled, Palladino, caught behind, and Danish Kaneria, who hit a spirited 16, caught by Kabir at fine leg.
It was fitting that Jones and Kabir combined for the wicket that won it.