Worcestershire face uncertain future
Warwickshire 443 (Westwood 133, Trott 93, Jones 6-100) beat Worcestershire 154 (Woakes 5-40) and 271 (Moore 63, Davies 62, Woakes 4-43) by an innings and 18 runs
When most clubs talk of 'survival', it is in the context of avoiding relegation.
It was, therefore, disconcerting to hear Steve Rhodes, Worcestershire's director of cricket, talking about "the survival" of Worcestershire County Cricket Club in the aftermath of another crushing defeat.
Rhodes did not mean 'survival' in Division One of the County Championship. He meant at all. Worcestershire, hit by floods, a small catchment area, recession and a changing world, are facing the greatest challenge in their history. Their future is uncertain.
Asked about the swingeing cuts he has been asked to make for his cricket budget ahead of next season, Rhodes was typically frank. "It's a lot of money," he said. "The figure quoted on Cricinfo [£300,000] is right. And yes, it does make life very difficult for us.
"But the most important thing is the survival of the club. We can cut back and survive. It's the same as if I were the manager of a factory: the most important thing is to ensure the company - or in this case the club - survive. We are quite hamstrung [financially], but in a way the rebuilding job excites me."
Rhodes was talking after Worcestershire subsided to another heavy defeat; this time by an innings and 18 runs against their closest and keenest rivals. The defeat leaves Worcestershire, who long since abandoned any hope of avoiding relegation, facing the real prospect of setting a most unwanted record. They need to score 19 points from their final three games to avoid setting a new record for the lowest points total ever recorded in either division since the introduction of promotion and relegation in 2000. The current record low is 88.5 points set by Glamorgan in 2005.
Worcestershire also face the possibility of going through a season without a championship win for only the second time in their history. This was their ninth loss in 13 games.
"They played much better than us in all departments," Rhodes admitted. "It's not nice to come to Edgbaston and lose and there are a lot of disappointed and depressed people in our dressing room. But we're determined to improve. We've had a chat and it ended in high spirits. All you can want as a coach is a team who own up and look to put things right. We can do better. We just need to stick together. There are still games to play and lots to play for. That might sound silly, but we have pride to play for and we want to make sure things don't end on a really sour note."
Rhodes also admitted that Kabir Ali had requested permission to talk to other counties. "The story on Cricinfo is correct," he said. "He's come in and asked to speak to other clubs. He has another year on his contract but these days that doesn't seem to matter too much. If guys don't want to play for Worcestershire, then fine. But Kabir is a prize possession and I'm very optimistic I can turn him around. Hopefully I can reassure him and he'll be playing for us in the future."
To rub salt into the wound, the man who showed most resistance on the final day was the departing Steve Davies. Davies produced some pleasing drives on the way to a brave half-century and added 71 for the seventh wicket with Gareth Andrew. With rain in the air, the partnership briefly raised hopes of an unlikely draw.
It was not to be, however. The introduction of spin had Andrew pushing at one angled across him and edging to slip before Richard Jones pulled a long-hop down the throat of Sreesanth at deep midwicket. Davies finally played-on after mis-judging a well-disguised slower ball before Imran Arif's missed a straight one.
Any hope that the top-order batsmen would resist was quickly snuffed out in the morning. Moeen Ali fell to the 11th delivery of the day, edging his loose drive to slip, and four balls later Vikram Solanki lost his middle stump to a perfect inswinger from the exemplary Chris Woakes.
Victory substantially eased Warwickshire's relegation concerns. Inspired by another excellent demonstration of swing bowling by Woakes, Warwickshire clinched victory shortly after lunch on the final day. It was Warwickshire's first home win of the season - and only their third in three seasons - but was enough to create a buffer between them and the worst of the relegation battle. They are not yet safe, but probably need only avoid defeat in their final two games to ensure another season of division one cricket.
When the 2009 season is complete, it may be that performances against Worcestershire are deemed key. For while Warwickshire completed 'the double' over their neighbours - the first time since 1933 they have managed such a feat - and claimed 42 points in the process, Yorkshire, who are now most precariously placed, managed only two draws against Worcestershire and took just 21 points from the two games.
Woakes was the pick of the bowlers. Swinging the ball vast distances, he finished with 9 for 83 in the match and looked head and shoulders better than anyone else on display. If you could buy shares in people, Woakes is the sort upon whom you'd bet your shirt.
Talk of full international recognition is surely premature, however. He is only 20 and, in unhelpful conditions, lacks the pace or devil to prosper. In conditions such as these, however, he is lethal. He's developing well and is in safe hands.
The match was also the end of an era. By the time cricket resumes here in 2010, the old pavilion that hosted all the greats from Grace, Hobbs, Bradman et al will have gone. Within a couple of years a vast, purpose-built new pavilion will have been constructed which is aimed to ensure Edgbaston's survival as a Test venue and Warwickshire's survival as a club. Cricket is changing and there is a serious concern that smaller clubs such as Worcestershire may not keep up. These are worrying times.