Worcester face stiff chase in promotion push
Sussex 237 and 102 for 2 v Worcestershire 201 for 9 dec.
The details may be uncertain, but Worcestershire will face a demanding run chase on the final day of the championship season if they are to achieve promotion. A brave first innings declaration underlined Worcestershire's desire to pursue any fourth-innings target but, after a day in which they dropped three chances and squandered a good platform with the bat, they may reflect that their best chance of success has already gone.
Sussex already lead by 138. On a pitch of variable bounce, a target of anything over 250 could prove very challenging.
Whatever happens, however, both these sides can look back with satisfaction on their campaigns. Sussex, who were presented with the Division Two trophy and a cheque for £135,000 at the end of play, have looked a class above all season, while Worcestershire have bounced back admirably from a terrible 2009.
It's worth dwelling on how last year ended for Worcestershire. They finished, remember, without a single first-class victory in the season for the first time since 1928 and were then hit by the loss of five senior players (Kabir Ali, Steve Davies, Stephen Moore, Gareth Batty and Simon Jones). Director of cricket, Steve Rhodes, was also obliged to cut his cricket budget by £300,000 as the club struggled to negotiate the recession. Some feared that the wooden spoon loomed this year.
Instead, however, the nucleus of a decent team has emerged. In Moeen Ali and Alexei Kervezee, Worcestershire have two of the best young batsmen in the land, while seamer Richard Jones and keeper Ben Cox have shown glimpses of form to suggest they could prosper at this level. In Alan Richardson, Rhodes recruited a hardworking and skillful seamer, while the arrival of allrounder Shakib Al Hasan has significantly strengthened them.
Most pleasingly, the second team also contains several players - mostly batsmen - who should go on to enjoy decent careers in the game. Whatever happens on the final day, they can look to the future with optimism.
They've not made life easy for themselves on the last day, however. By squandering three chances in the field, two of them quite straightforward, they have already allowed Sussex to pull further ahead than might have been the case. An unbroken third-wicket stand of 73 between the impressive Ben Brown, who pulls unusually well, and the typically pugnacious Murray Goodwin may prove to be the killer blow.
Crucially, Goodwin has been reprieved twice: first, on 12, when Solanki, at slip, missed one off the deserving Richardson and then again, on 21, when Shakib missed a simple chance, off Moeen, at midwicket. Daryl Mitchell also put down a sharp chance offered by Luke Wells, off Andrew, before Sussex had scored a run.
Worcestershire also squandered an opportunity to bat themselves into an impregnable position earlier in the day. At 132 for 2, they retained hopes of gaining an imposing first innings lead. A second-wicket stand of 77 between James Cameron and the elegant Vikram Solanki had earned them a good platform, while Moeen Ali also settled in nicely in a stand of 51 with Solanki.
Sadly, from a Worcestershire perspective, they were unable to capitalise. Cameron, in attempting the quick single that would have brought up his well-deserved fifty, was run-out by a direct hit by Wells, before Moeen - not for the first time - left a straight one that hit his off stump. Solanki was hit on the boot by a full toss in Will Beer's first over.
Legspinner Beer, in just his fourth first-class game, claimed career-best figures of 3 for 31. Though he found little turn, he demonstrated admirable control and Luke Wright also bowled pretty well. He exploited Kervezee's habit of reaching half-forward by claiming an early leg-before verdict, while Andrew was lured into poking at one he could have left outside off stump.
Earlier, it took Worcestershire just 14 balls to polish off Sussex's first innings. Gareth Andrew, bowling with some pace, claimed three wickets in five deliveries to finish with his best haul of the season. Hodd's innings was ended when he left a straight one, before Lewis Hatchett and Monty Panesar steered to point.
Monty didn't enjoy the best of days. Though he took one wicket, that of Matt Mason with an awful long-hop that the batsmen charitably steered to point, Monty's bowling was generally negated with ease. Moeen pulled him for one dismissive six, while Cameron skipped down the pitch and thumped two fours and a towering straight six.
The nadir came when Monty, fielding at fine leg, scooped the ball up but, instead of throwing it back to the keeper, somehow manged to drop it over the rope. He may have rediscovered something of his magic with the ball, but his fielding remains a work in progress.