Rashid gives Worcestershire harsh wake-up call
Yorkshire 368 (Brophy 177*, Sidebottom 61, Mason 3-72) and 56 for 1 (Lyth 29*, Root 21*) beat Worcestershire 286 (Mason 63, Rashid 6-77) and 137 (Kervezee 52, Rashid 5-37) by nine wickets
If Worcestershire had any doubts about how tough life would be in the top division of the County Championship, they were soon dispelled as Yorkshire completed a nine-wicket rout in just three days at New Road.
A game that had previously been well contested suddenly swung sharply in Yorkshire's direction as Worcestershire somehow contrived to lose all ten second innings wickets in a 32-over spell. Yorkshire, and Adil Rashid in particular, bowled pretty well but, on a blameless pitch and under a cloudless sky, this was a desperately disappointing performance from Worcestershire's batsmen. Their last six wickets succumbed for just 17 runs in 10 overs.
There were two stand-out performances for Yorkshire. Rashid, who claimed ten wickets in a match for the first time, bowled with an encouraging mix of skill and consistency, while Gerard Brophy's chanceless innings of 177 not out turned the match at a time when it had appeared the hosts had the upper hand.
From an England perspective, Rashid's was the more noteworthy performance. After demonstrating his new-found control in unhelpful conditions in the first innings, he showed his ability in more favourable conditions in the second. He gained substantial turn and claimed five wickets for ten runs in 40 balls at one stage, with the last three coming in just eight deliveries without addition. His googly and his slider proved particularly potent in this game, but it was the absence of four-balls that was equally pleasing. For a legspinner to have claimed 11 wickets by April 10 really is quite outstanding.
"It's the best I've seen him bowl," his captain, Andrew Gale, said afterwards. "He's always knocking on the door [of the England team], but he's not the finished article just yet. His patience is a lot better and, in the first innings, when there wasn't much help in the pitch, he built pressure really well. Then, in the second innings, when the pitch was offering some turn, he was able to take full advantage.
"But they played some poor shots. This game was all about patience and we won that battle. Durham will offer a tougher test."
It would probably be wrong to read too much into this win from a Yorkshire perspective. Few other sides will roll over in quite such an obliging manner and the way in which their top-order batting struggled in the first innings must be a concern.
However, they have Anthony McGrath and, perhaps, Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad to come back into the side and appear to have the skill and strength in depth to compete with anyone. Sterner tests await, for sure, but they have cleared this first hurdle in convincing fashion.
For Worcestershire, this was a deeply disappointing ending to a game that had promised so much more. They had played some admirable cricket on the first two days of this game but will have realised now, if they did not know before, that they can't afford a single poor session in this division. They have now won just one of their last 38 games in this division.
"We were, unfortunately, poor today," Steve Rhodes, Worcestershire's director of cricket, admitted. "We had too many guys not playing straight and we didn't handle Rashid very well. It was disappointing. We should have done better. We've only had one guy in the whole match bat for two hours and that was [debutant] Matt Pardoe and you don't win games unless you can bat for a long time. We want to do what Brophy did. We want to bat for six hours.
"We're well aware of the challenges ahead, but this was one which I fancied, if we played well enough, we could win. It's disappointing."
The key passage came between lunch and tea. With the pitch offering little to the seamers, James Cameron missed one that may have swung a fraction before Daryl Mitchel played horribly across a straight one and Vikram Solanki was, perhaps, a little unlucky to be caught down the leg-side.
There was a time, with Alexei Kervezee and Moeen Ali together, that batting looked a simple business. They took 27 from Rashid's first three overs, with Moeen slog-sweeping a six over the short boundary to the cathedral side and Kervezee using his feet nicely to drive a straight six and a brace of fours.
But, with the ball now spinning quite sharply, such tactics were always likely to prove high risk. And when Moeen, attempting an unnecessarily delicate sweep, spooned a simple catch to Adam Lyth, running around from slip to leg slip, and Kervezee attempted to play an outswinger through midwicket, the end came with alarming speed. Gareth Andrew hung his bat out at one angled across him, Pardoe, looking all at sea against Rashid, edged a googly to slip, Wright and Mason fell to successive deliveries, beaten by sharply-turning googlies, before Richardson was beaten in the flight. It left Rashid with his second five-wicket haul of the game and Yorkshire requiring just 56 to win.
Earlier Brophy steered Yorkshire to a first innings lead of 82. Though Ryan Sidebottom fell in Mason's first over of the morning, he'd already recorded a career-best score and helped Yorkshire add 149 for their eighth wicket. But Brophy wasn't finished. He shepherded the tail so well that Moin Ashraf didn't contribute a single run in a tenth-wicket stand of 43.
Brophy's method? He simply played very straight and waited for the poor ball. It may sound simple but, in a game where the next highest score was 63, his patience and his straight driving proved the difference between the sides. "It was his best knock for Yorkshire and the best I've seen him play," Gale said.
Though Yorkshire lost Joe Sayers early in the second innings, Lyth timed the ball sweetly and Joe Root, on championship debut, gave notice of his considerable talent with one pulled six and three crisply-struck fours that suggested a bright future.
"There are areas we can improve, but I'm delighted with the way that we stuck to the task and delighted with the result," Gale concluded. The game against Durham, starting at Leeds on Thursday, may offer a clearer indication of Yorkshire's credentials as championship contenders.