Warwickshire v Worcestershire, Edgbaston, 3rd day August 10, 2012

Warwickshire tighten grip at top

Warwickshire 132 (Clarke 61, Russell 4-43) and 263 for 3 (Westwood 83, Chopra 58) beat Worcestershire 246 (Hughes 135*) and 145 (Patel 4-42) by seven wickets

It may be premature to state that Warwickshire have one hand on the Championship trophy but, to borrow an Olympic metaphor, they are leading at the bell and look strong going into the final lap.

A seven-wicket victory over Worcestershire has taken them 21 points clear at the top of the table with four games to go. While two matches against Nottinghamshire, currently in second place, will surely be the key, Warwickshire have the depth of batting and the strength of bowling to proceed with confidence. In Tim Ambrose, Rikki Clarke and William Porterfield, they also have a close-catching unit the envy of most international teams.

It looks as if they should have reinforcements soon, too. Ashley Giles, the club's director of cricket, confirmed that Warwickshire hope to sign Ian Blackwell on loan for the next three Championship matches to cover for the absence of Jeetan Patel. "He is our preferred choice," Giles said. "We have talked to Durham, but nothing is finalised."

Warwickshire won this game - their first Championship victory since May - by making fewer mistakes than Worcestershire. Despite being bowled out for 132 in their first innings - a ridiculously low score on a blameless pitch - they retained the belief to claw their way back into the game. Worcestershire, by contrast, never really looked as if they thought they would win.

Such belief is not born simply of arrogance. It is born of the knowledge that the Warwickshire team contains 10 men who have scored first-class centuries (by contrast only five of the Worcestershire team could say the same) and, particularly when Clarke and Chris Woakes are available, the quality and variety of bowling to unlock most batting line-ups on most surfaces. Clarke will be unable to bowl in the next Championship game but, subject to England call-ups, Woakes should be back.

Such depth renders Warwickshire hard to wear down. Whereas Worcestershire were overly reliant on three bowlers and four batsmen, Warwickshire have the ability to recover from almost any situation. For a squad that has three men absent on England (or Lions) duty, it has remarkable strength.

Asked to score the highest total of the game in order to win, Warwickshire's openers posted a stand of 100, before three players with international experience - Jim Troughton, Darren Maddy and Porterfield - calmly made sure of victory. Ian Westwood, who made a far from elegant but efficient 83, led the way, with Varun Chopra, whose obvious ability has won him an overdue Lions call-up, adding his sixth score above 50 in the Championship season.

"The way we batted in the first innings was disappointing," Giles said, "but the belief in the side never wavered throughout. We always thought we would win this game. Whatever they scored, we thought we could chase it down.

"We played good cricket last year, but not as good as this year. We've played the best cricket I've seen from us as a team this year. There is no pressure because of what happened last year. We didn't bottle it; we just didn't bowl out a good side on a flat wicket on the last day. Really, we're just trying to do all the same things."

This was a disappointing loss for Worcestershire. After taking a first innings lead of 114 runs and ahead, at one stage, by 222 with six wickets in hand, they will feel they squandered a match-winning position. In truth, the lack of depth in their squad hurt them. With Richard Jones, James Cameron and Alexei Kervezee - all of whom might have anticipated featuring in this side under normal circumstances - out of form (as well as being injured, in Kervezee's case), Worcestershire went into this game with three men making their Championship debuts. Kervezee, at least, will return for the second XI next week.

"The game was there for the taking," Steve Rhodes, Worcestershire's director of cricket, said afterwards, "but we couldn't capitalise on our opportunities. We lost five wickets for seven runs in the first innings and six for 37 in the second. Good sides take opportunities and, if you don't, you end up scrapping at the bottom of the table."

The result may well prove damaging. Had Worcestershire won they would have risen to sixth in the table. As it is they remain bottom and involved in a relegation fight with Test-hosting clubs such as Lancashire, Surrey and Durham. It pays never to write off Worcestershire - they have shown the pluck to come back from such reverses frequently in recent years - but they really are facing an uphill fight this time.

It does not take a genius to work out their issues. Phil Hughes, the overseas player, is the only man average above 29 with the bat and they have the tail of a diplodocus. With the ball, meanwhile, they remain uncomfortably reliant on Alan Richardson, though Chris Russell enjoyed an encouraging debut. Moeen Ali bowled tidily, too, but still lacks the bite to hurt teams on a regular basis.

"I hate to say it," Rhodes said, "but my money is on Warwickshire for the Championship. We need to win two more games and there might well be some more changes in the side.

"Russell did well. We've invested a hell of a lot of time in him and there has not been much fruit so far but he will play in the next game against Lancashire. The other two found it a tough baptism. We've been knocked to the canvas in our last couple of games. But now we need to get off the floor and score some points in the latter stages of the bout."

They do, at least, have a game in hand on their rivals. Matches against fellow strugglers Durham and Lancashire could settle their fate.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Christopher on August 11, 2012, 13:58 GMT

    @RandyOz...like you,I have a high regard for Hughes and hope that he will return to his original game rather than being mired down in proving his technical competency. Under a different administration,it would never have been in question as intelligence dictates that all techniques predominate to either the off or onside as a scoring preference and to the back or front foot. It means that batting is far more about concentration,endurance,courage and game plans,as double centurion Jason Gillespie showed,than it ever is about technique. However,having changed his game as instructed and developed these problems as a result,he now needs to come up with solutions.He isnt half the player he was and County Cricket is far more of a challenge than the player rosters sometimes suggest.This is often a result of the effect that weather has on the nature of the pitches,that can turn medium pacers and spinners into match winners. Hughes hasnt dominated yet at Worcs at 1st class level.Fingers crossed

  • Randolph on August 11, 2012, 9:43 GMT

    Hughes is in outstanding form, carving up the weak county system. Will be dominant next Ashes.

  • Christopher on August 11, 2012, 2:29 GMT

    I also believe that Hughes not playing against SA for Worcs and moving to states to SthAustralia will be seen as a retrograde move.Most of the Hughes story is both untold publicly and perception.Ultimately its irrelevent. He needs to demonstrate answers to those questions that remain publicly over his game.Answering other questions will not suffice.The public wants to know that he can handle swing and bounce.If the SA series in 09 had been free to air,many would be asking what subsequently happened as I have.Unfortunately,it wasnt freely available.The highlights of his 2 hundreds in SA can be seen on Youtube under Hughes V SA 115 and Hughes v SA 160. I believe his public humiliation,a consequence of the previous CA administration,has been so complete that he faces a considerable task.Those that doubt the culpability of that administration need only read the Argus Review,extracts of Watson's book or listen to Katich in public and many who retired out of frustration.Intelligence rules.

  • Christopher on August 11, 2012, 2:22 GMT

    Well done Warwickshire. This was a game that they had no right to win from the position that they were in and deserve every plaudit. I'm in Melbourne & follow the County scene from here. I'm a Phillip Hughes fan but feel he is underestimating the task facing him. I was extremely disappointed with his 2nd innings duck. In 09 before the Lions game,he was a star with 8x 100s & 1637 runs on 3 continents in 10 games playing his own way.He joined the Australian squad,was instructed to change his game,shot selection & preparation & suddenly couldnt bat. Many have blamed him and I have often blogged on his behalf. His own game was unorthodox but peerless. When I see him playing an orthodox game,I despair. His ace was the unorthodoxy.There was no flaw in it against short pitched bowling.That came with changes to his grip,stance,trigger movement,lost bat speed and game plan that left him a sitting duck.If he doesnt have the courage and intelligence to revert,his future will remain limited.

  • Dummy4 on August 10, 2012, 23:31 GMT


  • mark on August 10, 2012, 21:13 GMT

    Champions elect! C'mon You Bears! Bears eat Pears!

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