Ajmal's career best outwits Essex
Worcestershire 291 (Mitchell 97) and 120 (Panesar 5-23, Salisbury 4-50) beat Essex 203 (Ryder 45, Ajmal 6-75) and 136 (Ajmal 7-19) by 72 runs
Monty Panesar may be the England frontline-spinner-in-waiting, but he was outbowled in this match by Pakistan's finest exponent, Saeed Ajmal, who took seven for 19 in Essex's second innings and 13 wickets in all.
Essex needed 209 to beat Worcestershire, only six more runs than they managed in their first innings, but a combination of Ajmal's subtlety, turn and low bounce in a pitch that was submerged in 11 foot of water only a couple of months ago was too much for them. Their batting was none too impressive, either.
Indeed, both coaches, Paul Grayson and Steve Rhodes, lamented the batting in general. Essex, given that Panesar had taken five Worcestershire second innings wickets for just 23, should have come considerably closer to reaching their target. They took the decision to send Mark Pettini in at the top of the order, reasoning that as many quick runs should be scored as possible before Ajmal was introduced into the attack. It did not really work.
Jack Shantry removed both him and Tom Westley before Ajmal came on - rather later than anticipated. Essex by then were 50 for 2 and it was quite apparent that his bowling would determine the outcome of the match.
Shantry, in fact, took a third wicket, having Jaik Mickleburgh stumped won the leg side, overbalancing, by the impressive Ben Cox, but the next seven wickets went to one bowler - and with some rapidity. Cox, incidentally, sought out James Foster, his opposite number, for advice at the end of the match.
Worcestershire had won, and gone to the top of the second division table, by 3 pm. Greg Smith was yorked, Jesse Ryder leg before half forward - 15 batsmen were given out lbw in this match, quite a few on the front foot - Foster bowled by a quicker one that kept low; Graham Napier, who might have been promoted to have a hit, caught well by first slip, Ross Whiteley, when the ball deflected off Daryl Mitchell's foot at second slip; Ben Foakes and Matt Salisbury were also leg before; and Panesar launched an ambitious drive at his first ball and was caught and bowled.
So seven to Ajmal and 13 for 94 in the match, a career best. In six appearances for Worcestershire, in 2011 and now, he has taken 45 wickets: not a bad signing. "A world-class spinner," as Grayson called him. "The pitch didn't deteriorate that much. We didn't bat well, we gave away too many runs. We are not achieving big enough totals and that is why we are still a Second Division side."
As for Worcestershire, who have now won all three of their Championship matches at New Road this season, the amount of fielding practice they have undergone this season is paying off. Their catching close to the wicket was particularly impressive in this fixture.
"Although neither side batted well, Saeed showed what a wonderful spinner he is," said Rhodes. "Ben Cox is really showing his presence when standing up - he gives us another dimension. His stumping today off Shantry was outstanding, as was his catch from a doosra on the second day."
Foster discussed wicketkeeping technique with Cox before the Essex coach departed, which was good to see: there is not merely a fast bowlers union. He is one to watch. As Cox said: "Batters don't leave the ball so much when I am up to the stumps. I see my job as a busy one - I have to be the colonel of everyone in the field."