Barker reduces Worcestershire but Leach hits back
Warwickshire 101 for 4 (Bell 46*) trail Worcestershire 243 (Clarke 50, Barker 4-65) by 142 runs
Worcestershire have a dismal record against their nearest neighbours in recent years, with each of their last seven Championship encounters ending in defeat. The sequence includes the reverse here in 2012 that clinched the title for Warwickshire, who were runners-up to Yorkshire last season and fancy they can go one better than that and reclaim the prize this year.
Yet Worcestershire, whose young side looks good enough to make at least a decent fist of staying up after last year's promotion, have given themselves an opportunity to halt that run after an opening day of entertaining cricket in which 14 wickets fell and 344 runs were scored, with the England players Moeen Ali and Ian Bell both showing glimpses of encouraging form ahead of the Ashes series.
At one point, with seamer Joe Leach continuing an impressive run of form, Worcestershire reduced Varun Chopra's side to 35 for 4, Leach trapping the Warwickshire captain in front as well as dismissing Atiq Javid and Laurie Evans to take his tally for the season to 30 wickets. Jack Shantry, meanwhile, had Jonathan Trott caught at first slip for a duck.
Much will depend on how quickly they can break a fifth-wicket partnership between Bell and his one-time international teammate, Tim Ambrose, which is currently worth 66 with Bell using all his experience to move to 46 after negotiating a difficult start with wickets falling around him.
Bell has so far managed one more run than Moeen, who looked in extremely good touch in the morning session, striking the ball so attractively that it was a disappointment that he should be out soon after lunch.
Worcestershire had chosen to bat and made a brisk start. The dismissal of Richard OIiver looked unlucky on the batsman, who was given out caught behind off an inside edge off Chris Wright, but his departure unshered in Moeen, who was off the mark with an elegantly executed textbook cover drive for four off Wright, dispatched Keith Barker to the boundary with an equally handsome stroke in the next over and brought Wright's opening spell to an end with three fours in four balls, an on-drive followed by two more through the cover region.
He and Daryl Mitchell added 66 for the second wicket in 21 overs but the dismissal of the Worcestershire captain just before lunch sparked a collapse in which four wickets fell for 22 runs in nine overs.
Mitchell negotiated the morning largely untroubled but clipped a ball from Wright off his legs only for it to go straight to Javid at midwicket. It took the shine off what had been an excellent morning for the home county, justifying Mitchell's decision to bat first, although he probably had in mind Saeed Ajmal's potential effectiveness in the fourth innings when he made that choice.
By this time, the bells of Worcester Cathedral across the river were a quarter of the way into four hours of continuous accompaniment to mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the document agreed and sealed by King John, whose remains are contained within a tomb in the chancel. But as the bells pealed, Worcestershire's middle order reeled, with four batsmen out in the space of nine overs for 22 runs. After Mitchell's demise, Tom Fell was bowled off an inside edge by Barker for 4, Alex Gidman strangled down the leg side off Wright and then Moeen, who had seemed so well set, mimicked Mitchell by chipping Barker to midwicket for 44.
It took a home debut half-century from 19-year-old Joe Clarke, another from a clutch of talented young players breaking through at New Road, to drag Worcestershire towards a workable total, the Shrewsbury-born batsman, who has kept wicket for England's Under-19s, hitting nine fours, including three in one over off Rikki Clarke.
But wickets continued to be given away a little too easily. Leach hit a sparky 22 from 23 balls, pulling Boyd Rankin for six, but when he changed ends to bowl from the Diglis End the giant Irishman had his revenge when an attempt by Leach to pull him to the boundary again flew back to the bowler off the splice. Ben Cox was leg before barely offering a shot to Jeetan Patel and Clarke was then the architect of his own demise when he checked a pull shot and was caught at deep-backward square. He walked off with Worcestershire's total 101 runs better than when he strode out at 124 for 4 but the tail could not do quite enough to harvest a second batting point.
Nonetheless, the early clatter of Warwickshire wickets gave the day a satisfactory feel overall for the home side, although they need to build on that by separating Bell and Ambrose quickly enough for those gains not to diminish.