Worcestershire prevail in audacious run chase
Worcestershire 243 and 255 for 4 beat Nottinghamshire 223 and 273 for 8 dec by six wickets
The last time Worcestershire won a Division One match at New Road, Steve Rhodes was keeping wicket for them, Facebook had just been founded and Tony Blair was just back from a visit to see his new friend Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. It was May 2004.
But, thanks to an audacious run chase, Worcestershire not only secured their first top flight win since August 2007, but sentenced the champions, Nottinghamshire, to their third successive Championship defeat. It's Worcestershire's first Division One win in 27 games and their second in 44.
They deserved it, too. Even though they lost every one of their first six games, they had often earned winning platforms, before losing crucial sessions. The results of their games against Somerset, Warwickshire, Yorkshire and Notts could all so easily have gone the other way.
There was appropriateness about the architects of this victory, too. Matt Pardoe, Moeen Ali and Alexei Kervezee - young men who should go on to win many more games for this club - all contributed with impressive innings, while Vikram Solanki, a man who has known the best of times and the worst of times during his two decades with the club, produced a scintillating half-century of the very highest quality. And they did it all without Adrian Shankar.
Perhaps, in retrospect, their target was a little generous. Certainly Steve Rhodes, Worcestershire's director of cricket, admitted he was "a little surprised" when Notts declared and set a target of 254 to win in 50 overs. But, in the context of the match and on a pitch that remained seamer-friendly, it was demanding.
And, when Worcestershire lost James Cameron, beaten by an inswinger, before a run had been scored, defeat looked almost inevitable.
Instead, however, Solanki and Pardoe added 117 for the second wicket in 28.2 overs. Solanki, the only survivor from the Worcestershire success here in 2004, timed the ball superbly and utilised the short boundary towards the Ladies Pavilion by hitting four sixes and eight fours. It was his highest score since relinquishing the captaincy at the backend of last year.
Pardoe played some lovely strokes, too. Solid initially, Pardoe helped his side establish a solid platform, before accelerating nicely, demonstrating a wider range of strokes than he's shown previously and running hard between the wickets. As Rhodes put it: "You can't help but be impressed by him."
Though Worcestershire suffered a mid-innings wobble when Gareth Andrew - stumped - and Vikram Solanki - reverse sweeping - fell in the same over, Moeen and Kervezee demonstrated their emerging class with a stand of 69 in 7.5 overs. The hosts were always ahead of the chase and, after bringing down the requirement to 110 from 16 and then 53 from 10, they eventually secured victory with 25 balls to spare.
"This tastes nice," Rhodes said afterwards. "We've played some good cricket this season, but we haven't got the results. We've a young side and it does knock the confidence a bit when they lose games, so they really deserved this today."
This defeat does not quite end Notts' hopes of retaining the Championship, but the warning bells are ringing loudly. Their top-order batting remains fragile, their bowling attacks looks thin and their fielding is, at times, remarkably poor. Riki Wessels looks a good addition and Alex Hales will return to action at the end of this week, but there were times on this last afternoon, when Chris Read must have wondered who he could throw the ball to in an attempt to stem the tide. They're down to seventh in the table and, on the evidence of the last few weeks, will be more concerned with matters at the bottom rather than the top of the table.
Read deserved better. Earlier in the day he produced a very fine hundred to take Notts to a seemingly impregnable position. Runs flowed more quickly than Worcestershire would have liked, with Read completing his first century for 12-months with a lovely straight drive for six off Jack Shantry.
The innings also finished in a blaze of sixes. Three times in four balls, the blameless Alan Richardson was carved over the boundary. He deserved better. His bowling - and the keeping of the excellent Ben Scott - played just as big a part in this victory as the batsmen on the final day.
The win takes Worcestershire off the foot of the table. Bearing in mind the respective budgets of the two clubs, it's a mini-miracle that they have leap-frogged Hampshire. Yorkshire aren't a million-miles away, either. Relegation isn't quite the certainty that some have suggested.
Meanwhile Mark Wagh announced his decision to retire with immediate effect. The 34-year-old, who was planning to call it a day in August, has brought the date forward after suffering a horrendous run of form. His Championship record this season - he's averaged just 16.25 - is grim for one so richly talented. Watching him of late - whether with the bat, or in the field - has been painful. He leaves to pursue a career in Law. Good luck to him.
Wagh once said he'd consider his career unfulfilled if he never played for England. Well, he never did. But any career than includes 31 first-class centuries and two Championship-winners' medals can't be all bad. What's more, he has provided pleasure. Of all the batsmen I've seen, no-one has timed the ball more sweetly than Wagh. Not even Gower or Azharuddin. Wagh was, perhaps, the most graceful batsman of his generation. Not the best - he didn't always have the grim determination that sometimes separates the best from the rest - but quite possibly the most enjoyable. The historian Robert Brooke once referred to the Wagh as "the most joyous batsman" he'd seen in his 70 years. I couldn't agree more.
Besides, had injury not intervened, he might well have played for England. After recording a magical triple-century at Lord's in 2001, he scored heavily for the England Academy and started 2002 an ace away from a call-up. Alas, it was not to be. Damaging his knee ligaments in a game of football, he missed several months of cricket and never quite came as close again.
Perhaps fewer people realised just how good he was than might have been the case. But he helped Warwickshire win a Championship title in 2004 and Nottinghamshire win one in 2010. Both clubs will remember him with fondness. It seems somehow fitting that he should slip out of the game, applauding other players off the pitch, at this most tranquil and beautiful of grounds.