Yousuf shows his class on poor pitch
Warwickshire 299 for 6 v Worcestershire
A century of rare class from Mohammad Yousuf earned Warwickshire the initiative on the first day of their Championship match against Worcestershire at Edgbaston.
Yousuf, defying a treacherous pitch quite unsuited for this level of cricket, gave a masterful demonstration of batting to record the 30th century of his first-class career. So fine an innings was this that Ashley Giles, hardly one prone to hyperbole, described it as "the best I've seen in difficult conditions." It was, in Giles' words "proper class."
Warwickshire may come to be very grateful for Yousuf's contribution. Not only did he make these runs in adversity, but they may have saved the club from a penalty far greater than a difficult match situation.
This game is taking place on a poor pitch. Form the second ball of the day, when Varun Chopra was struck a painful blow on the thumb, balls reared and scuttled in treacherous fashion and batsmen sustained numerous blows on the hands and body. Had the Worcestershire attack contained an outright fast bowler - the likes of Garner or Holding - than conditions might well have been too dangerous to continue. It really was that bad.
For some reason, however, the ECB have yet to send a Pitch Liaison Officer to Edgbaston for this match. Had they done so, it is quite possible that Warwickshire would have faced some sort of censure. Even, perhaps, a points penalty. That may yet happen, of course, though the scoreboard - and Yousuf in particular - has provided the club with strong defence against any complaint. Make no mistake, though, this is an unusually poor wicket. If one of England's premier batsmen - Ian Bell or Jonathan Trott - ends the game with a broken finger, there will be repercussions.
But Yousuf somehow managed to tame it. He took some blows and, once or twice, he was almost decapitated by deliveries that grew on him like a menacing wave, but generally he subjugated the opposition and the conditions in a quite brilliant way.
How? Well, he watched the ball hawkishly, played as late and as straight as was possible and, by remaining admirably compact, was able to drop his hands or duck his head at the last moment. While other batsmen were drawn into strokes, Yousuf spurned commitment in a manner that would have done Mick Jagger proud.
He also enjoyed a little fortune. He was, for example, lucky enough to avoid receiving the sort of delivery that dismissed Bell, a quite unplayable shooter, or the one that accounted for Darren Maddy, which spat off a length and took the edge of the bat on its way to the slips. The one chance that Yousuf gave, the ball after completing his century, Vikram Solanki, at slip, spurned. Moeen Ali was the unfortunate bowler. The only other moment of serious trouble, again after reaching his century, saw the ball balloon off his glove but in to space.
In-between times, Yousuf played some majestic strokes. His driving has always been sublime, of course, but this innings was also laced with some powerful pulls, some deft flicks off the legs and a lofted straight six off the ineffective Shaaiq Choudhry. After taking 153 deliveries over his first half-century, Yousuf's second occupied just 39 more as he took advantage of a tired attack that is heavily over reliant on two seamers who are the wrong side of 35.
This was a disappointing performance from Worcestershire. Their support bowlers failed to maintain the pressure created by the reliable Alan Richardson and Damien Wright, with Choudhry, James Cameron and Ali all conceding more than seven an over and Jack Shantry looking innocuous. Gareth Andrew reaped the rewards for one tight spell - Rikki Clarke perished in the midst of Andrew delivering eight maidens in 14 overs - but generally there were too many scoring opportunities offered. This already looks to be a highly imposing score and Worcestershire face a battle to remain in the game.
The first day was not all about Yousuf, however. Clarke also impressed and helped the Pakistani add 108 for the sixth-wicket in 32 overs. Clarke batted beautifully, deciding the best way to prosper was to put bat to ball. Twice in an over he struck Choudhry's left-arm spin for six (once off a straight drive; the other off a slog-sweep) and brought up his 50 (74 balls), with a classy back foot drive through the covers.
Bell impressed, too. Defying conditions at their worst and the attack at its freshest, Bell somehow managed to survive for 101 minutes, sustaining some harsh blows to the body in the process. It was revealing that, as he walked back to the pavilion having received an impossible delivery, he made little effort to conceal his discontent, looking repeatedly in the direction of the groundsman.
Most of the rest of the batsmen struggled. Chopra, unsettled by the conditions, swung his bat liberally and soon top-edged to long-leg, while William Porterfield's lack of foot movement was undone by swing. Trott and Clarke were both drawn into playing at deliveries on off stump that may have bounced more than they expected, before Tim Ambrose produced another gutsy display to help Yousuf add a further 92 for the seventh-wicket so far.
Meanwhile, the day marked another perhaps significant cultural milestone. Ali, taking the helm in place of the injured Daryl Mitchell is believed to be the first British-born Muslim to captain a county. Of somewhat less cultural significance, he is also believed to be Worcestershire's first bearded captain.
He faces a tough task in this game. Even without the injured Chris Woakes, Warwickshire's tall pace attack of Clarke and Boyd Rankin could prove a horrid proposition on this pitch. Worcestershire, who have lost their first four Championship games, are already on the back foot in the fifth.