Sussex v Worcestershire, Hove, 3rd day April 21, 2015

Worcestershire favourites after Kervezee's surprise

Tim Wigmore at Hove

Worcestershire 389 and 47 for 0 require a further 200 runs to beat Sussex 345 and 290 (Joyce 82, Senanayake 4-50)
Scorecard

Sachithra Senanayake helped set up a manageable target © Getty Images

The spectre of Saeed Ajmal loomed over Worcestershire's return to Division One. Last year Essex coach Paul Grayson said that if umpires had been "brave" enough to call Ajmal for an illegal action Worcestershire would not have been promoted.

When he returns, as Ajmal 2.0 after refining an action that extended to an average of 40 degrees, Worcestershire will dream of him evoking the destruction of his 63 wickets at 16.47 last season. But in the meantime they need to make sure that there is not too much for Ajmal to do. On the third day at Hove, Worcestershire looked to have uncovered a solution: two men combined to do what, last season, was the work of one Ajmal.

The identity of the first name was not surprising. Sachithra Senanayake, another man to have remodelled his action following the ICC clampdown on throwing last year, was signed expressly to provide his best Ajmal impression. After beginning the match bowling too short, Senanayake located a fuller length, relentlessly probing outside off stump. He snared the last four wickets with a healthy dollop of bounce and turn on a pitch that might have got Monty Panesar longing for a return to the South Coast.

But the identity of his offspin twin, who dismissed three of Sussex's top five, was rather more surprising. Before today Alexei Kervezee had taken two first-class wicket - both for Netherlands - in 88 games. He was even listed as a medium-pace bowler.

For the second time in the match, Ed Joyce and Matt Machan added a sparkling century stand for the second wicket after the early loss of Luke Wells. With a sumptuous day to enjoy, it provided the perfect backdrop for locals to enjoy the ground's generous selection of gelatos; the pistachio comes particularly recommended.

While less belligerent than during his 70-ball century in the first innings, Machan counter-punched pugnaciously after a dicey start - surviving a sharp slip chance off Charlie Morris on 4 - and it might have been with a little desperation that Daryl Mitchell asked Kervezee to bowl.

"It was a surprise," Kervezee admitted. But over his 15-over spell either side of lunch, the game was transformed. Machan was trapped lbw playing across the line to a quicker ball and Luke Wright was caught at short leg to a ball with extra bounce. And then, most significantly of all, a deliciously flighted ball tempted Ed Joyce, who had held Sussex together with his typical blend of serenity and panache, into slashing to slip.

Despite some pyrotechnics from Ajmal Shazhad, including a slog sweep for six off Senanayake, Sussex were becalmed, and their last five wickets mustered only 57. It was a bowling performance of tenacity and skill from Worcestershire, and not all about spin, either: Morris moved the new ball with menace while Jack Shantry was typically wholehearted. At times only the grunt Shantry emitted in his delivery stride disturbed the tranquility at Hove; clean-bowling Ben Brown after a sprightly 44 was a wicket well earned.

For Worcestershire to record their first victory in Division One since July 2012 - when Moeen Ali took 12 wickets at Old Trafford - the 14 overs they had to endure tonight shaped up as crucial. It was certainly enough time for Steve Magoffin, who has 207 first-class wickets for Sussex at 20 apiece, to ravage their top order.

Not on this occasion. The rangy Magoffin began with a wide, and Richard Oliver and Daryl Mitchell both exuded calm at the crease, knocking off 47 of the 247 needed. With Tymal Mills very unlikely to bowl due to a back complaint, the onus falls more than ever on Magoffin. As well as their quicks, Sussex also have Ashar Zaidi's left-arm darts and Luke Wells' legspin, which claimed two wickets in the first innings, but Hove has become greedy for more venomous twirlymen.

"Mushtaq Ahmed would be nice right now," Luke Wright said after the close. In his absence, as Wright conceded, Worcestershire should be considered slight favourites to chase down an even 200 on the final day.

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