Smith retraces steps to keep Leicester in touch
Worcestershire 321 and 48 for 2 lead Leicestershire 280 (Smith 85, Redfern 57, Ajmal 4-66) by 89 runs
Greg Smith successfully re-traced past footsteps as Leicestershire continued to make life difficult for Worcestershire despite Saeed Ajmal's four wickets for the Division Two leaders at New Road.
Six years after scoring 150 for England against New Zealand in an Under-19 international on this ground, Smith, the 25-year-old opener, continued his recent upturn in form with a fluent 85 which helped his county close in on the home team's total of 321.
But all along there was the spectre of Ajmal. In his last appearance before leaving for Pakistan's short tour of Sri Lanka, he reached 60 wickets in nine matches as Leicestershire eventually folded for 280 in a mirror image of Worcestershire's collapse from an opening stand of 163.
The visitors looked to be cruising at 194 for 2 but then lost eight wickets for 86 - the last three in 11 balls from Joe Leach - as Worcestershire claimed maximum bowling points for the 23rd match in a row.
With the pitch increasingly favouring bowlers, there was still time for another twist late in the day. Nathan Buck fired out Daryl Mitchell and Tom Fell - both century-makers at Grace Road last month - in five balls, leaving the promotion contenders on 48 for 2 at the close, a lead of 89.
Earlier Smith's second half-century in a week - with significant support from Ned Eckersley, 48, and Dan Redfern, with 57 - disturbed Worcestershire's tried-and-trusted strategy.
For much the of the season, the seamers had taken wickets before Ajmal got to work, but this time Jack Shantry's lbw dismissal of Angus Robson was the solitary success with the new ball.
Smith imposed himself with his impressive driving against the quicker bowlers, and with Eckersley carrying on from three centuries in three innings against Worcestershire last year, Leicestershire created a base from which to hold off Ajmal.
The second-wicket pair picked off a high proportion of boundaries until the spin master made his breakthrough with a ball that kept horribly low. With Eckersley back rather than forward, he was bowled after a stand of 91.
Even then Leicestershire were able to kick on again with a flow of crisply struck strokes from Redfern, but the warning signs were flashing again when Smith, after hitting 13 fours, edged Ajmal low to Tom Kohler-Cadmore at second slip.
It was the last 20 minutes before tea that saw Leicestershire truly knocked off course. Having trimmed their deficit to 103, they lost successive wickets to the seamers, crucially when Redfern was lbw to Shantry and perhaps wastefully when Niall O'Brien pulled Charlie Morris for six but flailed at the next ball and found Daryl Mitchell at slip.
Ajmal then struck either side of the interval. Rob Taylor was out fifth ball, pushing to Alexei Kervezee at silly point, and Josh Cobb, after playing well for 30, was lbw to one that turned but it was Leach who cleaned up the tail at the cost of one boundary by Buck.
"We were in a good position to take a lead," Ben Smith, Leicestershire's senior coach, said. "Looking back over the innings, I think the three wickets before tea was the period where it just fell away from us.
"Then when you have a world-class performer at one end, building pressure to get bowlers wickets at the other end, it's very difficult to try and pull away.
"I don't think we've given our wickets away. We may have got a little bit lax against the seamers but that's the pressure he builds."