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Jon Culley at New Road
May 30, 2012
Worcestershire 270 for 3 (Solanki 82*, Mitchell 80) v Somerset
Worcester's New Road has a special association with the select group of batsmen with the distinction of having scored 1,000 first-class runs before the end of May.
When Sir Donald Bradman did it twice, in 1930 and 1938, he began with a double-hundred on this ground in the traditional curtain-raiser to Australian tours. It was here in 1988 that Graeme Hick, the last to add his name to a roll call that currently stands at eight, passed the milestone in scoring 172 for Worcestershire against a West Indian attack that included Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose.
There is arguably no place more appropriate, then, for Somerset's Nick Compton to knock off the 59 runs he needs to become the ninth on the list. After an opening day dominated by Worcestershire's batsmen, however, he is at risk of finding himself added merely to the history of near-misses.
Worcestershire closed at only three down, which represents a highly acceptable first day for a side again facing a difficult season. Somerset began this round of matches in third place after their win over Durham last week, when the 19-year-old left-arm spinner George Dockrell bowled them to victory, but Compton's shoulders must have dropped when the toss gave Daryl Mitchell the chance to make first use of a good batting surface.
Hard though they made Worcestershire work for their runs, a Somerset bowling attack containing three teenagers could not engineer the outcome Compton would have liked. There were half-centuries for Mitchell, Phil Hughes and Vikram Solanki, who finished the day needing 18 more for his first hundred of the season.
Hughes, who has taken over from Michael Klinger as overseas player at New Road, has something to prove after a winter in which he was dropped from Australia's Test squad after averaging only 10.25 in November's two-Test home series against New Zealand.
A prolific run-scorer during a brief spell with Middlesex in early 2009, Hughes suffered a torrid Ashes series in the same summer and had intended to play a full season to show he could flourish in English conditions. His plans were scuppered when he was called to a Cricket Australia training camp, although he believes that refining his technique against Mitchell Johnson and Pat Cummins in the nets can only be to his benefit.
He arrived therefore only last week but opened emphatically with a century in Worcestershire's CB40 match against Middlesex last Sunday. A similar outcome to his first Championship innings would have represented the perfect start.
He was patient enough to face 47 balls before he scored his first boundary but, having reached 50 from 101 balls in an innings that mixed one or two impressively executed textbook strokes with some that merited an opposite description, he made an ugly mess of an attempt to drive a ball from Peter Trego square on the offside and was caught low down to his left by wicketkeeper Craig Kieswetter.
Nonetheless, Worcestershire were already enjoying rare prosperity with the bat. His partnership with Mitchell was worth exactly 100, the county's first opening stand in a first innings to reach such heights for more than a year.
Mitchell, who had looked well organised throughout, completed his half-century off 162 balls and seemed well placed to convert it to his second hundred of the summer when Alfonso Thomas, taking his turn as captain in the continued absence of Marcus Trescothick, called Arul Suppiah into the attack as a second left-arm spinner.
It turned out to be an effective move, whether by accident or design, as Mitchell went to cut Suppiah's third delivery but played the ball with the bottom edge, giving Kieswetter his second catch.
It was not a day for catches to be missed. By that stage, Somerset had put down Solanki twice. James Hildreth dropped him at slip on 19 off Dockrell and the next ball he faced resulted in a second escape, albeit to a more difficult chance at midwicket that Dockrell himself could not hold, off Trego.
Given that Solanki has settled down to play an otherwise chanceless and attractive innings, they were misses that are already costly and could be recalled even more ruefully on the second day, not least by the frustrated Compton. The only other wicket to fall, after the second new ball was taken, was that of Moeen Ali, who gave the persevering Trego a second well deserved success when he was leg before.
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