Warwickshire v Worcestershire, Edgbaston, 3rd day September 4, 2009

Worcestershire struggle on and off the field

George Dobell at Edgbaston

Worcestershire 154 (Woakes 5-40) and 123 for 3 (Moore 63) trail Warwickshire 443 (Westwood 133, Trott 93, Jones 6-100) by 166 runs
Scorecard

Worcestershire have endured many a grim day this season, but when they reflect on their 2009 campaign, the third day at Edgbaston might be considered a new low. Not only did the side slip to the brink of an innings defeat against their keenest rivals, but Worcestershire have also been hit by the shattering news that Kabir Ali, their star bowler, has asked for permission to talk to other counties. The 28-year-old swing bowler still has a year on his current contract.

The Worcestershire board will meet on Monday night to consider Ali's request. Bearing in mind that the club have previously stated that they did not want to keep anyone who didn't want to play for them, it appears likely that Kabir will be a free agent by next week. He will surely have no shortage of suitors. No-one in English cricket (with more than 100 first-class dismissals) has a better strike-rate than Ali and, when fully fit, he is arguably the best new ball bowler in county cricket. Worcestershire's reliance on him is illustrated by the fact they have not won a championship game without him since 2006.

Some will speculate that money is the motivation for the request. The fact that Kabir is due a benefit season suggests that is not the case, however. Instead he appears to have simply lost faith in a club that seems to lack ambition or direction.

To compound matters, the club's fitness coach has also resigned and they have pulled out of their attempt to sign Yorkshire's Ajmal Shahzad for financial reasons. With Steve Rhodes, Worcestershire's director of cricket, forced to reduce his cricket budget by £300,000 ahead of next season and admitting they are unlikely to be able to afford an overseas player, it's hard to avoid the impression that the club is close to meltdown.

Gareth Batty and Steve Davies have already announced their departure from New Road and it is far from certain that Ali will be the last of those looking to leave. Several players have recently expressed their concern at the quality of facilities at the club - Worcestershire is the only first-class county without its own indoor centre - and the club's ground redevelopment has been delayed as they are unable to fund the building.

There was no consolation on the pitch at Edgbaston. A fine spell of swing bowling by Warwickshire's 20-year-old allrounder, Chris Woakes, forced the visitors to follow-on and it will take a miracle for Worcestershire not suffer their first 'double' loss to Warwickshire - home and away in the same season - since 1933.

Preying on the frailty of Worcestershire's middle-order, Woakes claimed five wickets for 19 runs in a 40-ball spell as the visitors fell 289-runs short of the hosts' first-innings total. Though Woakes' primary weapon is an outswinger, his ability to move the ball back in creates uncertainty in the minds of batsmen and on this pitch - the stuff of swing bowler's dreams - he was close to unplayable at times. It was the fifth five-wicket haul of his fledgling career, but his first of the season. He was awarded a well-earned county cap during the tea interval.

After Moore was run-out, both men ending up at the bowler's end after Mitchell declined Moore's call for a single, Mitchell and Solanki appeared relatively untroubled against the probing Naqaash Tahir and the largely innocuous Sreesanth.

The introduction of Woakes sparked a collapse, however, with Mitchell wafting at the bowler's fifth delivery. Smith, who looks a shadow of the player he was, was bowled by one that pitched middle and hit off, before Moeen Ali and Steve Davies both pushed loosely at deliveries angled across them. Solanki was beaten by the one that nipped back before Gareth Andrew top-edged a wild cut and Richard Jones's forward prod was beaten by late swing. Alexei Kervezee resisted impressively for a while, but with only timid tail-enders for company, he was caught at mid-off looking to hit over the top.

Worcestershire fared a little better in the second innings. Moore, cutting and pulling with such power that the bowler, Sreesanth, felt the need to applaud him, led the way as Worcestershire compiled their second-highest opening stand of the season in first-class cricket.

Yet when Mitchell fell, prodding at one he could have left, it hastened another sharp decline with the visitors losing three wickets in eight balls.

Bell, at third man, did not have to move as Moore obligingly upper-cut Rankin into his hands, before Smith fell first ball, very well caught by Troughton at point. Moeen Ali survived the hat-trick ball before rain and bad light came to Worcestershire's aid. Still requiring 166 to make Warwickshire bat again, they'll need plenty more of it if they are to survive on the final day.

Meanwhile Warwickshire have offered a contract to Maurice Holmes, a young off-spinner from Kent.

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