Rhodes slams pitch as Warwickshire appeal
Warwickshire 382 and 173 for 8 dec beat Worcestershire 228 and 109 by 218 runs
Perhaps it was fitting that, as Steve Rhodes put it, there should be a "farcical end to quite a farcical game"?
Worcestershire, with two batsmen retired hurt and another 'absent injured', were forced to accept defeat by Warwickshire by a margin 218 runs even though they had lost only seven second-innings wickets. Memories of India's defeat at the hands of the West Indies at Sabina Park in 1976 spring to mind.
In truth, there was an element of protest in Worcestershire's decision not to send their remaining batsmen into the line of fire. Had the team had even a chance of victory, both Vikram Solanki and Alan Richardson would have batted. As it was, they decided it was better not to risk them.
It was a sensible decision. With the pitch every more unpredictable, the batsmen were taking blow after blow and Ben Scott, after sustaining a third hit on the gloves in a gutsy innings, was forced to retire hurt. There was no hope of resisting for long. The game was up.
Some might rebuke Worcestershire for a lack of fight. They will point to examples such as Brian Close and suggest players from the past might have battled a little harder. Maybe.
Generally, however, such criticism is facile. It is easy to sit the other side of the boundary and chastise players for a lack of fight. But spectators would do well to remember that these players are expected to play many more games in the coming days, weeks and months and that any injury sustained here could have damaging effects on their team's season and, perhaps, even their own careers. This pitch, by the end, was simply dangerous and it is a blessing that no-one has been seriously hurt during the game. It is, by some distance, the worst pitch I've seen for a Championship match.
Certainly Rhodes was scathing in his criticism at the end of the game. Reacting to news that Warwickshire had been penalised eight points for a track deemed 'poor' by the pitch panel, Rhodes, Worcestershire's director of cricket, suggested a 24-point penalty for an 'unfit' wicket would have been more appropriate.
"I can safely say that is probably the worst pitch I've seen in professional cricket in England," Rhodes said. "I would have voted it as unfit.
"If you ask the question: is that fit for first-class cricket?' then the answer has to be 'no.' It had extravagant bounce. I don't feel it was fit for first-class cricket."
Rhodes has a point, of course. But he and Worcestershire supporters baying for blood may do well to remember the sympathetic response Worcestershire received when they unsuccessfully tried to host a Championship game against Kent at a recently-flooded New Road in 2007. Groundsmen, like chief executive, players and journalists, sometimes make mistakes. The ECB judgement in this game, the result of three highly-experienced individuals' lengthy analysis, looks about right.
Despite all this, however, Warwickshire have decided to appeal the Pitch Panel's decision to dock them eight points for a track deemed to be 'poor.'
Warwickshire continue to play their cards quite close to their chest on the issue, but it seems their appeal will focus on the procedure used by the ECB to come to the decision. That is because the ECB were not alerted to concerns about the pitch by the match umpires, but by a member of the media. Oddly, the phone call made by the newspaper journalist to the ECB was not even answered or returned.
That having been said, Warwickshire are not claiming that the pitch was acceptable. They just feel there were extenuating circumstances relating to the new stands, outfield and drainage system and that the ECB's own procedure was not followed. On that basis, they may have a point, though it seems a shame they couldn't have accepted the penalty with some grace and moved on.
ECB rules on the issue are not absolutely clear, but it does not appear as if Warwickshire's points penalty can be increased. Instead, however, it seems that the ECB can charge them £5,000 (to be deducted from their next fee payment) should the appeal be unsuccessful. A new pitch panel will be convened within the week and they will review video footage of the match and interview relevant officials as required.
The 'pitch battle' should not disguise the fact that this was Worcestershire's fifth loss in five Championship games. Whatever the challenges, they were second best in every department in this match. Their support bowling was poor and their support batting flimsy. They've played some decent cricket without reward this season, but here they looked second best from the start.
At least Scott showed some fight in this game. The Middlesex keeper, with Worcestershire on loan, showed excellent skills with the gloves and bravery with the bat. He's a fine addition. Matt Pardoe and Moeen Ali batted nicely, too. And, if one or two of their colleagues are playing as if relegation is inevitable, they will find their coach will intolerant of such a view.
"We have to learn to fight a little harder," Rhodes admitted. "We've given too many wickets away to spin. We had a chance to win the game if we had we played better. Both teams played on the same wicket, after all."
Worcestershire lost three wickets in 14 balls on the final day. After Shaaiq Choudhry, surely batting too high at six in the order, missed one that may have kept a little low, Gareth Andrew edged one that took off from a length and Moeen Ali clipped to square-leg. Damien Wright then helped Scott add 44 for the seventh-wicket, before the former slogged to mid-off. Shortly afterwards, Scott was struck on the hand by a lifter from Boyd Rankin and the match was over.
The big difference between the sides was simply the batting of Mohammad Yousuf. Warwickshire supporters have taken some time to warm to the Pakistani and, in his early matches, there have been times, in the field in particular, when he hadn't appeared overly anxious about the match situation.
Such reservations have evaporated now. Yousuf played two magnificent, match-shaping innings in this game and the chances of him winning a longer-term contract at the club have increased significantly. Ashley Giles also admitted some interest in Dale Steyn, who is available in July. Tim Ambrose, back to his best with bat and gloves and Rikki Clarke also enjoyed good games, while Ian Bell, who sustained a very minor muscle strain, will now miss the CB40 match against Leicestershire having initially asked the ECB for special permission to play.
Giles, meanwhile, insisted that the poor wicket was purely accidental. "We want to play on the best possible wickets," Giles said. "I think we were the stronger side and providing a wicket like that usually just brings the weaker side into the game more. No-one wants to see anyone get hurt and none of us have said it was a great wicket.
"But the guys were brilliant as a collective. They didn't moan if they got an unplayable ball. They just got on with it.
"[Hosting] International cricket is very important to us, so the groundstaff have to learn very quickly. It [the redeveloped ground and re-laid outfield] is a bit of an unknown quality for everyone."
It may also be worth noting that the umpires rated the behaviour of both sets of players as exemplary. Despite the treacherous conditions, there was no moaning, no arguing and no dissent. Indeed, they showed considerable bravery. Whatever other issues there may have been with this match, the players of both sides have emerged with great credit.