Davies success leaves mixed feelings
Worcestershire 334 and 176 for 5 (Davies 76, Ali 59*) lead Nottinghamshire 219 (Wagh 49, Arif 5-93) by 291 runs
It must have been with mixed feelings that Worcestershire supporters watched Steve Davies compile a polished half-century at New Road. While they would be delighted at the strong position his innings has earned Worcestershire, it will have done nothing to ease the pain at the prospect of his imminent departure to Surrey. The club are losing a gem and they know it.
Davies, coming to the crease with the game in the balance, produced the best innings of the match to give his side an excellent chance of a first Championship victory this season. Though he was out to the last delivery of the day, popping up a catch to square leg as he attempted to turn one off his hips, he has helped his side earn a lead of 291 going into the last day. On a pitch that remains helpful to bowlers, Worcestershire should not need too many more.
Very well he played, too. Finding the gaps unerringly in a field packed with men to thwart his cut shot, Davies continued to score freely and underlined the impression that Surrey have snatched one of the brightest young talents on the county scene.
Worcestershire supporters can, at least, console themselves with the thought that Moeen Ali remains at New Road. Ali, a 22-year-old who is yet to deliver on his considerable potential, started scratchily but then unveiled some delightful shots in recording his first 50 in 13 Championship innings. With Davies, he posted a stand of 142 in 31 overs for the fifth wicket. It's the only century partnership of the match to date and may well prove decisive.
Nottinghamshire will reflect that they have made life far too easy for the hosts, however. Having had them tottering at 34 for four, Nottinghamshire dropped Moeen twice in the slips - Ealham was the guilty man on each occasion and Adams the unfortunate bowler - in addition to spurning chances off Mitchell and Smith.
It continued an untidy performance from Nottinghamshire. After squandering ideal bowling conditions on day one, they surrendered their wickets far too easily to concede a first innings deficit of 115. It's only the second time this season Worcestershire have secured a first innings lead.
Afterwards Mick Newell, Nottinghamshire's director of coaching, described the final day as "make or break" for both teams' hopes this season. "If we don't win here, we probably have to accept our chances [of winning the Championship title] have gone," he said. "And Worcestershire need to win if they are going to avoid relegation. It's a big day."
Newell was understandably underwhelmed by his side's batting. Although Mark Wagh, Samit Patel and Ali Brown all made 40s, nearly all of Nottinghamshire's batsmen played a part in their own downfall. Wagh undermined his admirably watchful 49 by edging a cut off a near wide, while Patel, who briefly made batting look easy, picked out the man on the square-leg boundary with a thoughtless flick. Suffice it to say, he's losing his fight to lose weight, too. The shadow he cast on the outfield here was only matched by that of the adjacent cathedral.
Only Shafayat could claim innocence for his dismissal. Forced to play one on off-stump, he could only edge to slip after it left him perfectly off the pitch. It was a memorable maiden wicket for debutant left-arm seamer Jack Shantry, who may have an awkward action but, like his brother, is a swing bowler of some skill.
Ealham, celebrating his 40th birthday, also perished on the square-leg fence, while Read was punished for an indeterminate prod and Adams' appalling slog resulted in a simple catch to point.
"The pitch isn't the easiest," Newell concluded, "but our dismissals weren't very clever."
Imran Arif also deserves credit. The Worcestershire fast bowler has endured a chastening first full season as a professional, but was rewarded for a sustained display of pace bowling here with the second five-wicket haul of his career.
The visitors hit back when Worcestershire began their second innings. Stephen Moore's luck showed no sign of improvement when he was caught down the legside, before Daryl Mitchell edged a good one that lifted on him and Vikram Solanki played slightly across a straight one. When Ben Smith lost his middle stump to a fine delivery that nipped back, the visitors were back in the game. Had they held Moeen on either 10 or 17, they might well have resumed on the final day in a winning position.
Nottinghamshire have disappointed in this game. With Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Ryan Sidebottom on England duty, Darren Pattinson dropped and Luke Fletcher injured, their attack looks surprisingly thin. Their batting too, now without Will Jefferson (who will not play for the club again) and Matt Wood (dropped), is more fragile than it should be while their fielding, hindered by some of the more corpulent figures in the county game, is perhaps the poorest in the division.