Rashid bags six on opening day
Stumps Worcestershire 286 (Mason 63, Rashid 6-77) v Yorkshire
Whatever else happens at Aintree or Augusta this week, you can be reasonably sure that the bookies won't go home penniless. You rarely see a poor bookmaker. So, when you see that Worcestershire have been quoted as 20/1 on for relegation, you realise the magnitude of the county's task this season. Many have already written them off.
Perhaps that's understandable. Worcestershire have won only one of their last 37 games in the top division. Their three previous experiences in the top division have each lasted just one season and, in 2009, the last season they were in Division One, they didn't win a single game.
Yet, after the horrors of 2009, Worcestershire rebuilt quietly last season and surprised most observers by winning promotion at the first time of asking. Their squad may not contain many 'big names', but there's a decent mixture of young talent and mature experience and they have built a team spirit that could prove invaluable in the months ahead.
That spirit was evident here. Despite succumbing to 218 for 9, Worcestershire's tenth-wicket pair added 68 in just 13 overs to earn a second bonus point and a foot-hold on a game that had looked to be slipping away. Their final total may still be 80 or so below par, but it's given them a chance.
The success of the tail also served to highlight the top-order's frailty, however. There are no terrors in this pitch. It is even paced and offers little to either seamer or spinner and Worcestershire's batsmen will reflect that several of them played a significant hand in their own demise.
The ease with which Matt Mason raced to a 46-ball half-century - just the fifth half-century of his 16-year first-class career - underlined that point. It was an innings full of crunching drives and the shot with which he reached his 50 - a short-arm pull for six off the labouring Ryan Sidebottom - was particularly pleasing. Alan Richardson, with 16, lent calm support. It was telling that it finally took a run out to end the innings.
That Worcestershire still find themselves on the back foot in this game is largely due to the efforts of Adil Rashid. Yorkshire's 23-year-old legspinner claimed the first five-wicket haul of the championship season, winning rich reward for a spell of well controlled bowling and finishing with 6 for 77. It was the 14th five-wicket haul of his career, but only three times has he finished with better figures.
It was not that Rashid found extravagant turn. Quite the contrary. But he maintained a tight line, a good length, utilised his variations intelligently and scarcely bowled a poor ball. Bearing in mind how little help he gained from the conditions, this was a fine effort. Until his figures were tarnished by the 10th-wicket pair, he had 6 for 56. Team-mate Joe Sayers rated it the best performance of Rashid's career to date on a non-turning pitch.
It was a performance that can only have impressed the watching national selector, Geoff Miller, too. While Graeme Swann's position as England's number one spinner is incontrovertible, England will surely be looking to take more than one spinner when they tour India, Dubai and Sri Lanka this winter.
Earlier, Worcestershire seemed to have laid the platform for a decent total when they progressed to 91 for 1. Though James Cameron, missed by Sayers in the slips off Steven Patterson on 10, then left a straight one, Darryl Mitchell produced some delightful back-foot drives and seemed to be making the most of his decision to bat first.
Yorkshire, however, played the tougher,more intelligent cricket. Appreciating that there was little help in the pitch, they instead concentrated on frustrating Worcestershire and, in a spell either side of lunch, conceded just 19 runs from 17 overs. That the spell also brought three wickets tells its own story.
Vikram Solanki, frustrated by the tight bowling, tried to break the shackles by skipping down the pitch and driving Rashid, but could only scoop an easy catch to midwicket. Mitchell played down the wrong line to what Rashid referred to as 'a slider', before Alexei Kervezee obligingly turned one from outside leg stump into the hands of midwicket. Moeen Ali resisted for 72 deliveries, but was then drawn into pushing at one angled across him, before 20-year-old debutant Matthew Pardoe, who had resisted impressively for two hours, fell in similar fashion.
Gareth Andrew, striking the ball cleanly, made a defiant 49, but the manner of his dismissal - missing an ugly slog-sweep - rather undid his good work, before Damien Wright missed another 'slider' and Ben Cox turned a quicker one into the hands of short leg.
It was an impressive display from Rashid. Many is the spinner that can turn in a good display when the pitches are worn and conditions in their advantage. But to turn in a match-shaping performance in early April is testament to a bowler who might have found the consistency to add to his variation. It could prove a potent combination.
Meanwhile Worcestershire welcomed a crowd of 2,800 - their biggest championship attendance since 2007- to sun-bathed New Road yesterday. Whatever other problems cricket may be facing, a lack of interest in the county championship is not among them.