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Clarke century soothes Worcestershire in anxious times

Kent 260 (Coles 47) and 120 for 3 (Denly 67*, Weatherby 24*) lead Worcestershire 336 (Clarke 142, Leach 57*) by 44 runs
Scorecard

It was probably fitting that Joe Clarke should lead Worcestershire's resistance on the second day of the crucial Championship match with Kent.

Clarke is an example of everything this club is about. Born locally (Shropshire) and developed through the club's academy, he has been given every opportunity to learn his trade at an age when some bigger clubs might have struggled to justify first-team opportunities. Now aged 21, he is established as one of the senior batsmen in the side. And as one of the most exciting talents in English cricket.

As he unveiled a series of particularly eye-catching drives and cuts, it was hard to believe this was the first time this season he has reached 50 in the Championship. But whether bowlers have worked him out a little - 2016 was his first full season and it is only natural that they will have discussed ways to bowl at him - or whether his mind may have been clouded a little by early England Lions recognition (he conceded that his issues may have been more mental than technical) he has struggled to repeat last year's prolific form of five Championship centuries.

Here, though, he looked terrific. Coming to the crease with the game - the season, even - at a crossroads (Worcestershire were 48 for 3 a few minutes after he took guard), he added 131 for the fourth wicket with George Rhodes and 90 for the eighth with Joe Leach. Together they earned their side a lead of 76. All three might reasonably be described as home-grown.

So might Josh Tongue. He couldn't reasonably be described as anything else, really. He made his debut for Worcestershire U10s when he was just six. And, as he took two early wickets in Kent's second innings, beating Sam Northeast for pace with a yorker that may have swung late, it was clear that he was another cricketer of rich potential. No-one else in this match has generated such pace or gained such carry and, aged 19, he clearly has more to come.

How long is it since Worcestershire have produced a home-grown seamer of this potential? Does Dean Headley qualify? Or Ricky Ellcock? Maybe. But equally, it may be necessary to go back to the days of Jack Flavell and Len Coldwell for a more accurate comparison. George Scrimshaw, a 19-year-old six foot seven left-arm pace bowler, is one to keep an eye upon, too. They are doing something very right at Worcestershire.

And the man who deserves to take most of the credit is their director of cricket, Steve Rhodes. While others - not least the academy director, Elliott Wilson - clearly deserve a share of the praise, it has been Rhodes' determination to develop home-grown players that has been key to Worcestershire's productivity. While other clubs were relying on agents to find them the latest foreign-born cricketer with a UK passport, Rhodes was up at 7am taking net sessions at private schools and cricket clubs looking for the next generation of talent.

England may well benefit from his work one day. Tongue and Clarke, in particular, are every bit that good.

How long Worcestershire continue to do so remains to be seen. Clarke is out of contract at New Road at the end of 2018 and, while the club are already talking about contract extensions, it would be a surprise if he were still at Worcestershire at the start of the 2019 season. He retains aspirations as a keeper and, with his progress blocked by the excellent Ben Cox here, may feel the need to look elsewhere for opportunity.

He'll have no shortage of takers. It may well prove relevant, though, that Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire are both likely to be in the market in the coming months as their keepers (Chris Read, who has announced his intention to retire in September, and Tim Ambrose) are aged 38 and 34 respectively. Hampshire may also be interested.

You can understand Worcestershire supporters' frustration at such a situation. It seems unjust. It seems the very opposite of meritocratic. It demands the ECB reward talent-producing clubs far more than they do at present. Worcestershire want to invest more in their academy, but a club in debt to the tune of £5million has to cut its cloth very carefully. Their annual turnover is around £5.5million.

So you can also understand Rhodes' frustration. He has invested such time and faith in these young men. He wants them to stay and build the sort of team in which he enjoyed such success here two or three decades ago. It's a perfectly admirable aspiration. You can feel his pain.

But the world has, for better or worse, changed. And it is an unnecessary shame Tom Kohler-Cadmore's spell at the club had to end so badly. Just as it is a shame Gareth Batty should be heckled at New Road upon his return. Both men served the club with distinction. Both deserved a bit better and, arguably, so did the club. A beautiful, friendly place isn't best advertised by booing.

Kohler-Cadmore is blameless in this situation. He played for the Yorkshire teams as a boy and has a natural desire to return home. His move is not motivated by money - though, really, would it be so bad if it was? - and it is understood he turned down a higher offer from Warwickshire. He was out of contract in October and Yorkshire's approach was absolutely by the book.

So why the expulsion?

The answer, of course, is disappointment. Rhodes' passion has spilled over into fury. He is a lover spurned; a friend let down; a partner crossed.

But his reaction has done nothing to help this club. It doesn't show strength; it shows spite. It won't encourage more loyalty; it will generate fear. It isn't just passion; it's indulgence. It is a move that robbed Worcestershire of a terrific player four months earlier than was necessary and has detracted attention from a club - and a director of cricket - that is doing so much so right.

It might well have been an attempt to make a statement. A statement that says 'hands off Moeen Ali and Clarke and Tongue'. But will that work? Or will it just render players reluctant to sign long-term contracts and reticent to confirm their intentions as early as Kohler-Cadmore did in a bid to help them plan for the future?

Might we look back on the Kohler-Cadmore incident as the episode that destabilised Worcestershire's season? Or might it be the moment that galvanised and united them? Right now, the former looks more likely, though the story isn't over. Before it happened, they had qualified for the semi-finals of the Royal London Cup and won all four of their Championship matches. Since then, they've been thrashed in that semi-final and lost their two subsequent Championship games. This match, against promotion-chasing Kent, looks crucial.

That Kent remain in contention is largely due to the bowling of Matt Coles. Hitting the seam pretty hard and gaining movement with the new ball in particular, he finished with 6 for 84 including a spell of 3 for 3 with the second new ball. As a result, the Worcestershire lead was somewhat smaller than it might have been.

And with Joe Denly driving beautifully, Kent had a lead by stumps. With Yasir Shah in the side, anything over 200 will take some chasing. Worcestershire undoubtedly have the talent for such a chase, but they've a little less now than they had at the start of the month. And it all seems so unnecessary.