Ajmal signs off with three in victory
Worcestershire 321 (Mitchell 90, Oliver 78) and 416 for 8 dec. (Kohler-Cadmore 99, Kervezee 75) beat Leicestershire 280 (Smith 85, Ajmal 4-66) and 253 (O'Brien 57, Ajmal 3-81, Morris 3-53) by 204 runs
Division Two leaders Worcestershire gave Saeed Ajmal a winning send-off as they overpowered Leicestershire by 204 runs at New Road in a major step towards securing promotion.
Ajmal, the Pakistan offspinner, took seven more wickets in the match for a total of 63 in nine games, but this was by no means a one-man effort as a young seam attack, led by impressive all-rounder Joe Leach, played a big part in dismissing Leicestershire for 253.
A sixth win in 11 games has given Worcestershire a significant cushion in the promotion race before they have to cope without Ajmal for the last five fixtures. He will fly home to Pakistan on Thursday, with memories of a standing ovation as he led the team off the field with second-innings figures of 3 for 81.
New Zealand seamer Mitchell McClenaghan will now take over the overseas slot and will make his first championship appearance against Gloucestershire at Cheltenham on Monday.
Ajmal's contribution has been immense, not only with six returns of five or more wickets but in creating the confidence for a fledgling team to develop more quickly than many would have envisaged following the retirement of leading pace bowler Alan Richardson.
This match began as top versus bottom and also finished that way but with the gap extended to 108 points, with one side undefeated in 13 matches since last September and the other now up to 27 games without a win in nearly two years.
Leicestershire were set a notional target of 458, which was 64 more than their record fourth-innings total in the championship. But this was the least of their concerns on resuming at 56 for 2, with their main worry whether they could bat out the last day or whether Worcestershire could take eight wickets.
Yet the visitors were more competitive than the scorecard suggested. Opener Greg Smith again batted well, following his first innings 85 with 46, until his good work was undone when dragging a short ball from Morris to deep midwicket.
Dan Redfern was equally obdurate before becoming Ajmal's first victim of the innings, taken at second slip after making 29, and still there was strong resistance with a partnership of 54 in 15 overs by Josh Cobb and Niall O'Brien.
The first half-hour after lunch changed everything though, with four wickets falling. Leach landed the key blow when Cobb, on 30 drove a slower ball back to him, and he then had Rob Taylor neatly caught at second slip. Next it was Ajmal with wickets in successive overs, holding a return chance from Jigar Naik and bowling James Sykes.
O'Brien continued to frustrate Worcestershire, hitting 11 fours in his 57 from 79 balls until Morris returned to have the Irishman well caught by Tom Kohler-Cadmore, running back behind the wicketkeeper.
The last pair delayed Worcestershire's celebrations by putting on 47 as Nathan Buck made an unbeaten 29 and Charlie Shreck 18. Both hit sixes off Ajmal before left-arm spinner Shaaiq Choudhry was belatedly called up to have the latter caught by Leach at long-off.
Steve Rhodes, Worcestershire's director of cricket, saluted Saeed Ajmal for his contribution: "His wickets and economy rate in Twenty20 has been outstanding and likewise the amount of wickets he has taken in four-day cricket.
"But it's not just his wickets. This is a very young squad. His experience and help for Daryl Mitchell in the field has been important as well. He's almost a father figure.''
Ben Smith, Leicestershire's senior coach, praised his team for a battling performance. "It was a big ask to bat the day out but it wasn't beyond us," he said. "Everyone felt quite buoyant at the start but we had a bad 40 minutes after lunch.
"We have shown a lot of fight and belief to play against a world-class performer in Saeed Ajmal. He doesn't need the wicket to turn because he has so many subtle variations.''