Essex fight back after Ajmal's six
Worcestershire 291 and 105 for 8 (Panesar 4-18) lead Essex 203 (Ryder 45, Ajmal 6-75) by 193 runs
Keith Fletcher, the great sage of Essex cricket, still has a significant position within the club, overseeing the first team. He is not at Worcester for the very good reason that he is celebrating his 70th birthday at his home in Suffolk, along with old team-mates including Ken McEwan, who has journeyed from South Africa and is staying with him. Their discussions will not be all about the past, for they will be keeping abreast of their beloved county's considerable progress at New Road.
Essex are having to compete against Worcestershire, and specifically Saeed Ajmal, who took six of their first innings wickets, with an attack that is lacking David Masters, Reece Topley and Tymal Mills. Still, having been bowled out for 203, a deficit of 88, they swiftly rid themselves of Matt Pardoe and Tom Kohler-Cadmore. Tom Fell was brilliantly stumped by James Foster off Matt Salisbury, whose medium pace is far from sluggish.
The captain, still standing up, then held Alexei Kervezee, who had not scored: three for Salisbury, who is from Chelmsford, on his debut. Monty Panesar took the important wicket of Daryl Mitchell, indeed a vital wicket nowadays for any side seeking to beat Worcestershire, and then bowled Ben Cox. When Ross Whiteley was taken by Foster, a more straightforward catch, this, off Jesse Ryder, and Jack Shantry was bowled by Panesar, Worcestershire's lead was only 193.
The pitch is troublesome for batsmen. Eleven feet of water on the square, as occurred during the floods, inevitably has consequences. The ball is keeping low to a considerable degree and is turning for the spinners, although that has to be a good thing. Ajmal finished with his best figures for Worcestershire: he took 17 wickets in 2011 and now has 19 this season, a fine return from just six Championship matches to date. He is expected to play in 10 or 11 fixtures this summer, for he is largely free of international commitments.
The day began rather unexpectedly. The two undefeated overnight batsmen were listed as Tom Westley and Salisbury, although in actuality they had both been out the previous evening. This brought to mind the story of another of Fletcher's humorous old colleagues, Ray East, who once at Tunbridge Wells returned to bat after lunch after being given out on the final delivery of the morning session. He revealed his identity to the umpire only when the Kent bowler had commenced his run-up.
The batsmen who did take to the crease now were Jaik Mickleburgh and Greg Smith. Both went to Joe Leach, one leg-before looking to work the ball through the on side and the other very well stumped by Cox as he overbalanced attempting to flick the ball away. That was 96 for 4, and there was no proper recovery until Graham Napier smote Charlie Morris for two sixes in putting on 38 for the last wicket with Panesar - whose contribution was a single.
Ajmal disconcerted any batsman who opted to go back in his crease, for the bounce was untrustworthy. Three of his six wickets were through lbw decisions, two having come overnight and now Ben Foakes in addition, going through shuffling across his stumps straight after lunch. Mark Pettini was held at the wicket, Foster was leg-before to another ball that kept low, this from Shantry, and Ryder, on his Championship debut, carved Ajmal to the fielder at cover point. Napier's characteristic thumps over square leg were much needed.