Gutsy Worcestershire boss first day
Stumps Worcestershire 155 for 2 (Cameron 56, Rankin 1-13) v Warwickshire 201 (Woakes 47*, Wright 5-62)
The last time Worcestershire won a Division One championship game at New Road, Graeme Hick made a double century and Tony Blair was still Prime Minister. 84 months have passed since that game against Gloucestershire, in May 2004, and every subsequent Worcestershire assault upon the top division has lasted just one season and ended in relegation.
But their performance on the first day of their game against local rivals, Warwickshire, revived hopes that their fortunes could improve this season. For they go into the second day - just 46 behind and with eight wickets in hand - with an excellent chance of establishing a match-winning position.
That they find themselves so well placed is largely due to the sterling efforts of Damien Wright. The 35-year-old vindicated his captain's decision to insert Warwickshire by harnessing the conditions expertly and claiming the 14th five-wicket haul of his career.
Very well he bowled, too. Pitching the ball on a good length and generating sharp movement, Wright delivered a performance that might have been described as that of an 'old fashioned English seamer' had he not hailed from Casino in New South Wales. Ian Westwood, perhaps surprisingly preferred to Darren Maddy in the Warwickshire team, was bowled by one that swung back sharply, before William Porterfield drove to short mid-off and Mohammad Yousuf, the Pakistan batsman making his Warwickshire debut, edged a good outswinger from Matt Mason to slip.
Wright won good support from Worcestershire's other seamers, with Gareth Andrew especially impressive. The 27-year-old allrounder, a much improved cricketer over the last season, showed decent pace and generated sharp lift as he troubled all the Warwickshire batsman. First he ended Varun Chopra's promising innings with one that may have kept a little low, before Richard Johnson, playing instead of the injured Tim Ambrose, edged a brute of a ball that bounced and left him and Ant Botha was bowled through the gate by one swung back between bat and pad.
Jim Troughton and Rikki Clarke added 53 for Warwickshire's fifth wicket but, when Wright, at gully, held on to a superb, juggling effort it precipitated a collapse that saw Warwickshire lose five for 33. Clarke, who had scarsley played a false stroke, was undone by one that bounced and left him, before Miller was caught off the glove by one that reared.
It could have been even better from a Worcestershire perspective. Had they accepted either of two chances offered by Chris Woakes, Warwickshire wouldn't have got anywhere near 200. As it was, Woakes was reprieved on four, when an edge off Mason flew between second and third slip, and again on 23 when Matt Pardoe put down a straightforward chance on the square-leg boundary off Andrew. Had it been taken, Warwickshire would have been bowled out for 169.
Instead, Woakes earned his side a batting bonus point and something of a foot hold in the game. With Boyd Rankin he added 42 for the tenth-wicket, timing the ball sweetly and farming the strike masterfully. The only drawback, from a Warwickshire perspective, was that Woakes strained his wrist while batting and was never quite at his best with the ball.
If Warwickshire are to fight back, they'll have to bowl far better than they managed on the first evening. Failing to heed Worcestershire's example, Warwickshire bowled too short and seemed preoccupied with pace over line and length. The carry may have looked impressive as 'keeper Richard Johnson took ball after ball above his head, but the batsmen left it with ease.
James Cameron and Daryl Mitchell certainly enjoyed it. Worcestershire's openers brought up the 100 in just 20 overs, with both posted men punishing anything short and feasting on the regular leg side deliveries.
Warwickshire did have a chance to claw their way back into the game. But, after Cameron had bottom-edged a pull and Mitchell edged his push at one outside off stump, Warwickshire squandered the opportunity to make further inroads when Botha put down Solanki at slip off Rankin when the batsman had scored just seven.
Perhaps Warwickshire can consider themselves a little unfortunate. Batting was desperately difficult in the morning session and conditions did appear to have eased just a little by the time Worcestershire batted.
But, if they are honest with themselves, they'll admit that the hosts utilised the conditions far better and realise they have to tighten up their line and length considerably on the second day of they are to claw their way back into this match.