Mitchell battles the Hampshire tide
Worcestershire 206 and 153 for 5 (Mitchell 71*) trail Hampshire 500 for 9 dec by 141 runs
For a change, there was some obduracy about Worcestershire's batting. Not in their first innings, in which they lost their remaining five wickets in 22 overs, but when Daryl Mitchell returned to the crease, seeking to remain there like, well, his counterpart Jimmy Adams. In this he succeeded, making an unbeaten 71 off 206 balls with just five fours, having been dropped when he had only a single to his name.
The long-serving Hampshire head groundsman, Nigel Gray - he had a testimonial last year - is as capable as Ron Allsopp, of Trent Bridge fame, of producing the required pitch upon demand. This can be deceptive. The green surfaces of last season would assist the opening bowlers for little more than an hour before flattening out. ECB pitch inspectors did not have to tarry for long.
For this match, Gray has come up with a slowish pitch on which the accumulator can properly accumulate. Yet there was a little turn on the third day, as Danny Briggs found, maybe to his surprise, in his first over. The ball with which he had Gareth Andrew leg-before spun back into him considerably. Indeed, in this period five wickets fell for 47 runs.
A side that collapsed in a rudimentary way, all out for fewer runs than Jimmy Adams contributed off his own bat, surely could only improve on that - as Worcestershire were more or less able to do. Of the other first-innings wickets that fell, Neil Pinner was leg-before half forward to James Tomlinson, Michael Johnson lost his off stump playing down the wrong line at Sean Ervine and Briggs took a second wicket when Richard Jones was well held by David Balcombe off a skier to square leg. Alan Richardson was last man out, caught in the slips off Ervine.
Adams would not have deliberated for long over whether to enforce the follow on, with a 294-run advantage. Given the lack of depth in their middle order, Worcestershire, it seemed, would do well still to be batting on the fourth day. Matt Pardoe was soon nicely taken by Adam Wheater low to his left off Chris Wood and Moeen Ali was lbw shuffling across his stumps against James Tomlinson. His was the most prized wicket. There followed a partnership of 77 between Mitchell and Thilan Samaraweera.
Had Mitchell been held by Wheater, when he was only just off the mark, Worcestershire would have been in similar disarray as in the first innings. As it was, Samaraweera was first to go, bowled pushing forward at Briggs, a dismissal which was followed five runs later by that of Alexei Kervezee, whose middle stump was knocked out by James Vince, that little-used medium-pacer.
Pinner followed, padding up in Liam Dawson's first over upon replacing Briggs at the Pavilion End. Mitchell remained, collecting his runs as assiduously as Adams had earlier in the match. If there was little that embroidered his innings, there was much gumption to admire. The fact that he was missed by Wheater - in fairness not the easiest of chances - raised again the question of whether the county's best wicketkeeper (Michael Bates) should play ahead of the best wicketkeeper-batsman (Wheater). This is an argument that will continue all season, although it is quite apparent whom Hampshire's preference will continue to be in the first-class game.