County Championship round-up August 25, 2009

Andrew gives hope to threadbare Worcestershire

George Dobell at New Road

Worcestershire 314 for 7 (Andrew 77*, Adams 3-71) v Nottinghamshire

Perhaps there was something fitting about the presence of a scaffold at the Diglis End of Worcestershire's New Road ground. Although it was only assembled to accommodate Sky's television cameras, its resemblance to a gallows seemed more in keeping with the mood at the club. As Mark Newton, Worcestershire's chief executive, put it, some of the members "are calling for heads" after a truly grim season.

It's not just the impending relegation. After two previous experiences of life in the first division - both of which lasted just the season - supporters always knew that relegation was a possibility. The fight is not so much to avoid the drop, but to surpass the record lowest points tally for a division one side, of 88.5, set by Glamorgan in 2005.

The angst that was so apparent at members' forum following play is caused more by the exodus of leading players. Steve Davies and Gareth Batty have already announced their decisions to depart and it is almost certain that others will follow.

Stephen Moore has a clause in his contract allowing him to leave if the club are relegated, while the vultures circling over Worcestershire's new pavilion are also aiming to pick up the likes of Kabir Ali and Chris Whelan. With Simon Jones already released, and the club having admitted they may not be able to afford an overseas player next year, one wonders what sort of squad they will field next season.

Certainly the side they have assembled in this match is remarkably lacking in experience. In the absence of Kabir, Mason, Jones, Whelan, Batty and an overseas player, the four seamers selected here have played only 49 first-class games between them and include a 21-year-old debutant, Jack Shantry, the brother of Glamorgan's Adam.

The reasons given for the departures - poor pitches, poor training facilities and uncompetitive salaries - are only part of the answer. There is also an issue with the relationship between some of the players and the director of cricket, Steve Rhodes. It looks, at present, as if the club's management will stick with Rhodes, trusting him to rebuild over the next few years.

"The crucial thing is that we have players here who want to play for Worcestershire," Rhodes said. "I don't want anyone here who isn't completely committed. I want people who are prepared to die for the club. In a way, this is a very exciting time for the club. We've a couple of tough years ahead of us, yes, but I'm looking forward to it.

"A few things have happened that have been difficult to come to terms with. Things like losing £300,000 off my cricket budget. There have been times when I've felt quite depressed; and I know that's a big word to use.

"But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm feeling refreshed. I've decided to roll my sleeves up and get on with it."

On the evidence of the first day of this game, he has a little with which to work. Richard Jones and Gareth Andrew both recorded career-best scores, while Daryl Mitchell and Ben Smith recovered some form after trying seasons. It is with players such as Mitchell, Andrew and Jones that Rhodes must try to rebuild at New Road. None would claim to be the most talented players, but all three showed admirable spirit and character in helping their team pick up a third batting bonus point for just the fourth time this season.

Indeed, on the evidence of this performance, it was hard to pick between the sides. Nottinghamshire may be second in the championship table, but they have not won in seven championship games and are 37 points adrift of Durham. They have to win here to have any hope of winning the title.

Missing Ryan Sidebottom and Stuart Broad, on England duty, and Luke Fletcher and Darren Pattinson who are struggling for form and fitness, they failed to capitalise on winning the toss and bowling in conditions about which seam and swing bowlers should dream.

Charlie Shreck took particular punishment. Struggling with his pace and rhythm, he looked almost unrecognisable from the man who claimed more than 60 first-class wickets last year. He was pulled for sixes by Jones and Andrew and currently has only a dozen wickets this season at a cost of over 70 apiece.

Andy Carter, a 20-year-old seamer on championship debut, also struggled. He generated some pace and bounce from a low, slingy action, but failed to maintain the consistency required. Andre Adams was easily the pick of the attack. Swinging the ball prodigiously, he only leaked runs late in the day and was unfortunate to see Solanki (on 18) and Mitchell (on 36) put down off his bowling.

But it is Mitchell who deserves the credit for Worcestershire improved performance. He made only 25 in the morning session but, in drawing the sting from the bowling when the conditions were at their most difficult, laid the platform for much of what was to come later.

Most of his top-order colleagues struggled. Moore was beaten by a beauty that bounced and left him, before Solanki was punished for trying to clip an outswing through mid-wicket by edging to slip. Moeen Ali left a straight one, while Steve Davies slashed to point.

With Smith, however, Mitchell at last found a partner to stay with him. The pair added 89, with Smith cutting particularly well in compiling just his third half-century of the championship season.

He remains without a century for 38 months, however, and when he fell to an edged cut and Mitchell's 62-over vigil was ended when he was drawn into prodding at one outside off-stump, it left Worcestershire's innings in the balance at 181 for 6. But Andrew, hitting hard but straight, marshalled the lower-order so effectively that he added 59 for the seventh-wicket with Kervezee and an unbroken 74 for the eight with Jones.

With the pitch easing and Nottinghamshire's attack beginning to labour, Andrew swung his bat at anything short, but also drove pleasingly and blocked sensibly. He may not be able to prevent seemingly inevitable relegation, but he has at least provided a glimmer of hope for Worcestershire's future.