Durham struggle to sign off on a high
Worcestershire 347 for 9 (Andrew 77, Mitchell 67) v Durham
When asked about the secret of Durham's success recently, the county's head coach, Geoff Cook, remarked upon the side's enjoyment of socialising together.
On the evidence of their performance on the first day of this game, however, Durham's players have perhaps been 'socialising' rather a lot of late. With the championship title secured, they understandably lacked the intensity of previous matches and produced a disappointing performance with the ball and in the field.
Perhaps that's understandable. They have performed admirably for six months but are struggling to rouse themselves for one final effort in such a low-key encounter. At a distinctly autumnal New Road - a first-class fixture has never started so late on the ground - it was hard to escape the feeling that Durham were simply going through the motions.
Indeed, it was hard to tell which team were the unbeaten champions and which the winless relegated as Worcestershire produced a spirited performance to ensure they will avoid one unwanted record. They now only need one point to surpass the lowest points total in a season since the introduction of two-division cricket. Even by the standards of this grim season, they should manage that.
They also have the chance to register their first win. On a pitch offering substantial assistance to the bowlers, Worcestershire ended the first day on a highly competitive total of 347 for 9. If Durham bat as poorly as they've bowled, the hosts might yet finish this season on a high.
It was Gareth Andrew who made the key contribution here. With the game in the balance at 226 for 7, Andrew compiled a pleasing innings of 77 to lead Worcestershire's lower-order in an impressive rearguard.
Before this season, Andrew had never made a first-class half-century. Barring a miracle, however, he will finish fourth in his county's batting averages this season and again demonstrated his improvement with another positive innings.
Striking the ball well, Andrew still has a bucolic quality to his batting - as a pulled six over midwicket off Mark Davies illustrated - but showed a deeper level of ability with a series of delightful strokes through the covers off front and back foot. It took a beauty that pitched outside leg and hit the top of off to dismiss him.
"Anything over 300 is a great score on that wicket," Andrew said afterwards. "Obviously we've had a poor season, but the adversity has brought us closer as a group and it would be brilliant to finish the season on a high."
He was well supported by Richard Jones and Chris Whelan. Jones, in particular, demonstrated a sound technique in resisting for over an hour and helping Worcestershire to their third-highest total at New Road this season.
Earlier Worcestershire were grateful for the contributions of Daryl Mitchell and Alexei Kervezee as the top-order again failed to prosper. Stephen Moore cut to point, Vikram Solanki played on and Moeen Ali nicked one that left him, but Mitchell, who looks in fine form, and the fast improving Kervezee both looked largely untroubled against Durham much-vaunted pace attack.
Indeed, it took the underrated medium-pace of Dale Benkenstein to remove both of them. Mitchell simply misjudged a straight ball and padded up, while Kervezee pushed hard at one outside off and edged to slip.
It was not a day which any of the Durham seamers will remember with particular fondness. Watched by England selector James Whitaker, they struggled with their line and length and looked a shadow of the fearsome force of previous rounds.
A better batting unit might have taken fuller advantage. But Steve Davies, playing his final first-class game for Worcestershire, obligingly cut to the man placed for the shot, before Dave Wheeldon picked out the man on the long-leg fence with a pull. Jones was finally undone by the swing of the second new ball, leaving Jack Shantry and Whelan to edge to a fourth batting point.
Off the pitch, Worcestershire announced that Shantry had been given a new two-year contract. Mehraj Ahmed has not been so fortunate, however. The 20-year-old fast bowler, who conceded 73 in nine overs on his championship debut only six-weeks ago, has been informed that he will not be offered a new deal.
George Dobell is managing director of Spin Magazine