Moeen displays the promise of youth
Stumps Worcestershire 375 (Moeen 92, Rankin 5-57) v Warwickshire 201 (Woakes 47*, Wright 5-62) and 76 for 0
This season may not end with open-top bus rides and trophy-laden celebrations, but Worcestershire is a club with much to look forward to over the coming years.
While their bowling attack remains somewhat uncomfortably over-reliant on seamers of advanced years, the club possesses some of the most exciting young batting talent in the country.
It was a point made abundantly clear on the second day at New Road as Moeen Ali and Matt Pardoe batted together. Moeen, a 23-year-old who has just committed to Worcestershire until the end of the 2013 season, and Pardoe, a 20-year-old graduate of the county's academy, earned their side a first-innings lead of 174 and a great chance of inflicting a first County Championship win over their local rivals since 2000. Never have they beaten them in Division One.
With both men, it was the shots they did not play that were as impressive as those they did. On a pitch that continues to provide copious assistance to bowlers and against an attack that tested them with pace, bounce, movement and verbal 'advice', both young men were admirably compact in technique and composed in approach.
Moeen, who left Warwickshire to join Worcestershire at the end of the 2006 season, has a reputation as something of a dasher: elegant outside off stump, but always likely to keep the slip cordon interested.
Here, however, he showed admirable patience, left the ball with discipline and, in scoring off only 41 of the 162 deliveries he faced, the defensive technique to add to his flair. It's not that he's lost the ability to put away the bad ball - he brought up his 50 with a gorgeous four driven through extra-cover and followed it up with an equally well-timed on-drive next delivery - but he's tightened up his technique appreciably. As he put it, "sometimes you grow up." He fell eight short of a well-deserved century, edging a quicker delivery from Ant Botha to slip, but, in the context of this match, his 92 was monumental.
Pardoe's patience was the most noticeable characteristic of his innings. He scored off only 25 of the 142 deliveries he faced but, in between times, demonstrated a pleasing cover drive as well as the ability to slog the long-hops over midwicket. On such a testing surface, this was a fine effort.
Warwickshire, however, continued to bowl far too short. Perhaps seduced by the pace and carry available, all four of Warwickshire's seamers failed to bring the batsmen forward or make them play enough.
Though Boyd Rankin, the towering Irish fast bowler, finished with the fourth five-wicket haul of his first-class career, it could have been even better. At times, Rankin was quite unplayable. He claimed the wicket of Alexei Kervezee, another in Worcestershire's battery of supremely talented young batsmen, with a beast of a ball that reared off a length and struck the batsman's glove on its way to second slip. He then ended Vikram Solanki's pleasing innings when the batsman pushed at one outside off stump and Pardoe eventually edged one angled across him. The suspicion remains, however, that had Rankin and co pitched the ball up more often, Worcestershire would have struggled to reach 250.
"If you pitch the ball in the right areas, it still does a lot," Moeen confirmed afterwards. "So you just need to be patient. Matt Pardoe did that really well.
"A couple of years ago, I probably would have nicked off. But sometimes you grow up, don't you? I really enjoyed batting against good fast bowlers in testing conditions and maybe Warwickshire bowled a bit short. It was a tough day, but very enjoyable.
"I'm really pleased to have sorted out my contract situation. I enjoy the responsibility I have at Worcestershire and I enjoy being one of the senior batters."
Warwickshire earned themselves a lifeline in the evening session. Varun Chopra, who really is in golden touch at present, batted quite beautifully in dominating an unbroken opening stand of 76 with Ian Westwood, reducing the arrears to 98 by stumps.
Worcestershire were, perhaps, as guilty as Warwickshire had been of bowling too short. But the timing of Chopra's back-foot stokes, especially his drives, was deeply impressive and suggested that the former England U19 captain could yet enjoy a future in international cricket.
The ease with which Warwickshire negotiated what might have proved an uncomfortable 24-over session, may also have unsettled Worcestershire a little. While the hosts would, no doubt, have settled for a lead of almost 100 going into the third day, it may well play on their minds that they surrendered a similarly strong position against Yorkshire in their first game of the season. To lose one match from such a position might be regarded as unfortunate; to lose two might well prove fatal.