Metters debut overshadowed by pitch concerns
Worcestershire 228 for 9 v Warwickshire 382
Warwickshire face the prospect of winning at Edgbaston but ending the game with fewer points than they started as concerns over the quality of their pitch grow.
While Warwickshire have taken a firm grip on their Championship match against Worcestershire, their success was overshadowed by news that the ECB have convened a pitch panel to discuss the surface.
The casual observer could be forgiven for concluding that this pitch is not really so bad. There is, after all, nothing from the scores to suggest anything particularly malign. And it perhaps behaved a little better on day two than it had on day one.
But David Hughes, the ECB Pitch Liaison Officer present on day two, was not convinced. Indeed, he was sufficiently concerned to call in a second PLO, Tony Pigott, while Chris Wood, the ECB's 'Pitch Consultant' will be present on day three. At the end of play, they will hold a pitch panel meeting to decide what action, if any, should be taken.
Should the pitch be deemed 'unfit' for four-day cricket - the lowest grade - then Warwickshire will be penalised 24 points. Should it be deemed 'poor' - a more likely scenario - then they would lose eight points. For a team that flirted with relegation throughout last season, such a blow could prove very costly indeed.
Whatever happens, the episode is an embarrassment to Warwickshire. The club have worked hard in recent years to redevelop their dilapidated ground and reinvigorate a fading team. And, as CB40 Champions and the owners of a vastly improved stadium, they have generally been very successful.
But this will hurt them. The club's management admit they need to host major matches every year if they are to repay the millions they have borrowed for the redevelopment and they have realistic hopes of securing Ashes Test in 2013 and 2015. But no-one will talk about excellent conference facilities or the new media centre if the pitch is sub-standard.
To be fair, Edgbaston have a very good record with their international pitches since the mid-90s and there is plenty of time to improve matters before India play a Test here in August. The suggestion of Colin Povey, Warwickshire's chief executive, that the perceived pitch problems are all "in the head" of the batsmen is surely just wishful thinking, however.
Suffice it to say, his words met with an underwhelmed response from the home dressing room. Ben Scott, Worcestershire's wicket-keeper, subsequently referred to it as "a 70 all out wicket." As he put it: "you wouldn't expect that here, would you?"
The biggest shame of the pitch problem is that it will detract attention from an excellent debut from Chris Metters. Metters, a 20-year-old left-arm spinner who came to attention through his fine performances in Minor Counties cricket with Devon, finished the day with five for 65 and could yet add to his haul. It's the first time a Warwickshire player has taken a five-wicket haul in the championship on their first-class debut since Jack Marshall did so, also against Worcestershire, in 1946. No-one else managed the feat in the 20th century.
Few, if any, of Metter's wickets owed much to the pitch. Bowling from the City End, by far the less helpful end in this match, he was instead rewarded for his accuracy, his variation and some gentle turn. Like his director of cricket, Ashley Giles, Metters is a former seamer turned spinner and the pace with which he bowls and the aggression he shows suggest there's no reason why he shouldn't enjoy a long career in the game.
It would be disingenuous to deny that he was also fortunate to run into a Worcestershire side who bat, at times, with a reckless abandon that makes their position at the foot of the Championship table quite unsurprising.
There is something glorious about some of the Worcestershire batting. But it's glorious in the sense of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And we all know how that ended.
Alexei Kervezee, for example, was very badly missed by Boyd Rankin on the square leg boundary before he had scored, but continued to flail away as if involved in a demanding run chase and finally fell after missing a sweep. Damien Wright slogged a full toss down the throat of deep mid-wicket, while Moeen Ali ruined his two-hours of defiance, by turning an innocuous delivery straight into the hands of leg slip. Jack Shantry, bizarrely trying to take the attack to the bowler, perished to a return catch to the last ball of the day as he tried to hit over the top, while Vikram Solanki edged to first slip as he attempted a highly ambitious back foot drive. It was not impressive batting.
Only Matt Pardoe impressed. The 20-year-old, pressed into service as an opener, left the ball with discipline but drove with real style as he recorded his third half-century in just his fifth Championship appearance. His colleagues could learn much from his straight bat and patient approach.
Pardoe prodded a return catch to Metters, however, as Worcestershire squandered a decent platform and lost eight for 113. It all means that they will resume on the third day requiring five more runs to avoid the possibility of the follow-on. With two days to play, however, and Warwickshire not overly keen on batting last, it might well not be enforced anyway.
Earlier, Warwickshire secured a fourth batting bonus point as Worcestershire's creaking attack was exposed for its over reliance on two seamers the wrong side of 35. Though Mohammad Yousuf's excellent inning was ended when he left one that nipped back sharply, Tim Ambrose reached his second half-century of the season and Metters and Rankin enjoyed a merry tenth-wicket stand of 39.
Wright, getting a couple to rear horribly to dismiss Tahir and Ambrose, finished with his third five-wicket haul of the season, but it was Alan Richardson who was the pick of the attack. The pair, aged 35 and 36 respectively, bowled 62 overs between them and looked infinitely superior to their colleagues. To see Rankin, a batsman with few pretensions, thrashing the support bowlers back over their heads for four, suggested there was either little wrong with the pitch, or something seriously wrong with the bowling. And this pitch is far from good.