Topley's 11 keeps promotion hopes alive
Essex 351 (Smith 94, Foakes 71, Richardson 4-92) and 53 for 2 beat Worcestershire 102 (Topley 6-29) and 299 (Pardoe 88, Mitchell 62, Topley 5-56) by eight wickets
Essex wrapped up a comprehensive eight-wicket win over Worcestershire inside three days to keep their promotion hopes alive. This is now their third victory in five matches since their defeat at Old Trafford, as they continue on a run that has them nipping at the heels of second-placed Northamptonshire, with three games left to play.
The match was capped by a stellar performance of a sensational 11 for 85 from their young precocious left-arm seamer Reece Topley, who finished the Worcestershire second innings with 5 for 56 to give himself his maiden ten-wicket haul. Those figures represent the best match return by an Essex bowler since Maurice Chambers took 10 for 123 here against Nottinghamshire in June 2010.
While his bowling in the short-form has garnered praise, a small number - to his surprise - have flippantly questioned his approach to four-day cricket. In this match he focussed his efforts on maintaining a steady line and swinging the ball, even sighting Tim Murtagh exploits at Malahide against England as an example of why bowling is not all about pushing the 90mph mark. "Sometimes it's all about control, not raw firepower," Topley said.
Having set himself the goal of 50 first-class wickets at the beginning of the season, Topley looks on course for that target, with three games still to play. Today's haul puts him out in front as the club's leading wicket-taker in the competition, and seven away from his target.
"I've had some critics say I haven't proved myself with my red ball bowling," he began. "But that 50 milestone is well in sight. Then again, I wouldn't want to get 50 wickets at the expense of the team. If I don't get any wickets for the rest of the season and we still get promotion then I'll settle for that any day."
Results still need the go Essex's way, whether Topley takes wickets or not. With rain forecast around the country tomorrow, a draw seems the most likely result for Northants away to Hampshire. Should Northants' pick up only three more points, Essex will be 29 points off the second promotion spot with a game in hand; next week's fixture away to Kent.
You won't find many associated with Essex on the terraces and in the changing room that have given up on promotion. Paul Grayson this morning knew his side had to concentrate on their own game before worrying about slip-ups elsewhere. When the prospect of an extra day off was put to him, as the prospect of an early finish to this match loomed large with early morning wickets, his response was short and sharp: "I'll be back here - working."
Faced with a poor Worcestershire side, the hosts were clinical. The 51 runs for victory were knocked off with an air of nuisance that they had been asked to bat again, despite the two wickets lost - Jaik Mickleburgh and Greg Smith cutting Shaaiq Choudry to Moeen Ali at gully and second slip, respectively.
Topley had created such a slim target. He nabbed two wickets in his first over, as he trapped nightwatchman David Lucas in front, before tempting Joe Leach into an expansive and unnecessary drive, which he edged through to James Foster, giving Topley, only 19-years-old, his third of the innings and eight in the game - beating his previous best of 7 for 114.
Graham Napier's absence this morning because of a stomach bug meant Ryan ten Doeschate had the ball for the first time in the match, and struck with the valuable wicket of opener Matthew Pardoe, who was starting to play some shots. Known as "golden arm" in these parts, ten Doeschate started with a long-hop and then a ridiculous wide, before finding a good length and decking the ball across Pardoe, a left-hander, who fended the ball to Mickleburgh in the slips.
Michael Johnson then gifted Topley his wicket with yet another loose drive, bringing Ross Whiteley and Shaaiq Choudry together. The pair put on a handy 67 to take Worcestershire into the lead - a partnership that coincided with the introduction of Monty Panesar to the attack.
With England spin bowling coach Peter Such watching on, Panesar started with two maidens, before serving up a four-ball in each of his last five overs, before being replaced at the River End. He cut a forlorn figure in his final over, kicking the ground in front of him when a ball was worked around the corner.
Choudry and Whiteley were then both removed in consecutive balls, either side of lunch, before Topley took the final wicket - Jack Shantry edging behind - to give him an eleventh success.