Sussex win relegation battle
Sussex 375 and 267 for 4 dec beat Worcestershire 222 and 169 by 251 runs
Sussex ensured their survival in Division One of next year's County Championship with a resounding 251-run win over Worcestershire.
For Worcestershire the fight goes on. They require a maximum of eight points from the final game to ensure their survival. In reality, however, they will probably need far fewer. Going into their final game of the season, starting in Durham on Monday, Worcestershire are just one point behind Yorkshire - who have already played their last game - and 17 points ahead of Hampshire. That means that Hampshire will have to defeat the title contenders Warwickshire in their final match if they are to have any chance of denying Worcestershire. It is, at both ends of the table, a superbly dramatic finish to the Championship campaign.
This has, however, been a disappointing game from Worcestershire. They've dropped some simple catches, bowled some poor spells and given some wickets away with reckless strokes. They remain a work in progress.
But any dissatisfaction needs to be put in context. Worcestershire, remember, lost their first six Championship games of the season. They are a club who have been forced to cut £300,000 from their cricket budget and who, not so long ago, saw the majority of their senior players depart for greener pastures. Division One survival might seem a modest ambition to richer clubs; to Worcestershire it is an outstanding achievement.
Perhaps that sounds patronising. But if you compare the cricket budgets and facilities of Worcestershire with the other teams in Division One - and some of those in Division Two - and you realise how well Steve Rhodes and co. have done. It is, in its own way, as big an achievement as Lancashire, Durham or Warwickshire winning the Championship title.
It's a point not lost on Rhodes, their director of cricket. He described the prospect of survival as the biggest personal achievement of his career: bigger, even, than two Championship titles and representing England in Test cricket.
"It would be an awesome achievement," he said. "We were quoted as 25-1 on to finish bottom. And we were tipped to be bottom of Division Two last year. It would be amazing."
In some ways, however, this was a deeply frustrating performance from Worcestershire. To see Moeen Ali chasing a wide delivery and edging to slip moments before lunch on the final day was akin to seeing Alexei Kervezee trying to hit Monty Panesar over long-on with only six required to avoid the follow-on in the first innings. It was naive batting from two deeply talented young men who are at the stage of their careers where they need to be promising less and delivering more.
"We have some young guys in the dressing room," Rhodes said. "Sometimes we want them to run a bit faster and they trip up. Inevitably, mistakes are repeated. But it's all part of the learning curve. If we do stay up, we'll be better prepared for another season at this level. We've a young, English side and we'll be better for this experience."
Sussex could also feel well satisfied with their season. While some at Hove may have been rather spoiled by the success of the last decade - you have to go back to 2004 to find a year when Sussex have gone without a trophy - most teams, particularly most non-Test hosting teams, would be delighted with a mid-table position in Division One.
Again, the context is important. Not only have they lost a coterie of senior players in recent years - the likes of Martin-Jenkins, Lewry, Kirtley and Adams but, a week ahead of this season, their director of cricket, Mark Robinson, expected to have Michael Yardy, Luke Wright and Matt Prior in his side for the first Championship game. He ended up with none of them and, with injuries of different types depriving him of Yardy and Wright for much of the season, struggled to find the requisite balance in the side.
That should be better next year. Luke Wright has recently undergone successful knee surgery and is expected to be 100% fit to play a full part with bat and ball next year. Yardy, too, should be back to his best, while in the likes of Joe Gatting and Luke Wells, Sussex have two young batsmen who should serve them with distinction for a generation. There will, no doubt, be an addition or two to the squad. A swing bowler is the target; Naqaash Tahir is a possibility.
"We're relieved, more than anything," Robinson agreed afterwards. "We've had a couple of difficult periods this season, so it's great that we've taken stock a bit and can build on this next year.
"Ed Joyce, Chris Nash and Murray Goodwin have been absolute rocks for us this season, while Monty Panesar has taken on a colossal workload. We've tended to bat poorly in the first innings - which is why we have so few batting bonus points - but well in the second innings - which shows character. We'll definitely be looking to improve on this next year."
It was, perhaps, fitting that it was Jimmy Anyon who should bowl them to victory on the final day. While Anyon is not a local product - indeed, he's something of the archetypal journeyman having spent time at Lancashire, Surrey and Warwickshire - he is typical of the sort of cricketer that Sussex have made a habit of rehabilitating in recent years. Mushtaq Ahmed followed a similar route.
Anyon was rescued from the second team at Edgbaston and instilled with new confidence and sense of purpose at Hove. That can only happen with excellent management and a strong team spirit and Anyon has now emerged as the strong, fast bowler he always suggested he could become. He passed 50 Championship wickets in the season on the final day here - the first time he's reached that landmark - and, in a weaker playing age, he might have interested the England selectors.
Here he discomforted the Worcestershire batsmen with his pace and bounce. Vikram Solanki lost his off stump attempting to turn a full ball through mid wicket, Aneesh Kapil, roughed up by some short stuff, was then slow to come forward to an excellent inswinger, while Daryl Mitchell's tentative forward prod was defeated by pace. Mitchell, it should be noted, has not scored a century since he was appointed Worcestershire captain a few weeks from the end of the 2010 season.
Meanwhile Kervezee was caught behind as he made room to cut Panesar - a high-risk shot - James Cameron was somewhat unfortunate to be caught down the leg side and Gareth Andrew, who didn't much seem to fancy the pace of Amjad Khan, was beaten for pace.
Worcestershire were, perhaps, a little unfortunate. The umpiring decisions that saw off Kemar Roach, Daryl Mitchell, Alan Richardson and, in the first innings, Moeen Ali and Ben Scott, all looked harsh. Indeed, the umpires - quick to take the players off in bad light, but slow to bring them back on - didn't have the best of games. They, like players and journalists, are human after all. But few would deny that the best team won.
George Dobell is chief writer at Spin magazine