Worcestershire stumble on final day

Warwickshire 201 (Wright 5-62) and 461 for 8 dec (Chopra 228, Yousuf 81, Richardson 4-97) beat Worcestershire 375 (Moeen 92, Rankin 5-57) and 199 (Kervezee 65, Woakes 6-49) by 88 runs

Had anyone told Worcestershire that they would be above Somerset in the County Championship table after two games, the chances are they'd have accepted with glee. Few could have imagined how wildly unpredictable the start of this season would be, however. Or, indeed, how little return Worcestershire would receive for their decent cricket over the opening couple of weeks.

For, despite dominating large passages of this match, Worcestershire were eventually sentenced to an 88-run loss by a Warwickshire team that find themselves, most unexpectedly, equal top of the table. For a side lacking Neil Carter, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell, that's a fine effort. They have developed a strong battery of seamers and, buoyed by Varun Chopra's sublime form with the bat, have already gone a long way towards avoiding the relegation fight that many predicted.

While Chopra's remarkable form might be the key factor, however, the contribution of Chris Woakes has also been significant.

It was Woakes, on the last day of this game, that followed his century and nine-wicket haul at Taunton, with 6 for 49 in Worcestershire's second innings. Despite finding little swing, Woakes bowled a testing line and length and allowed the helpful pitch to do the rest. It was a characteristically mature performance from the best seamer Warwickshire have produced in many, many years.

It was the 11th five-wicket haul of Woakes' first-class career and will, no doubt, increase the number of those calling for him to be called up into Test squad. Certainly Woakes is a fine cricketer and just might, one day, be good enough to bat in England's top six. But a better Test bowler than Anderson, Broad or Tremlett? Probably not. Not yet, anyway. He is a work in progress and may still need a little more pace and consistency for Test cricket. Aged just 22, Woakes has time on his side.

This result doesn't really reflect Worcestershire's performance in this match. Just as they had in their first game, against Yorkshire, the hosts dominated for much of the game. Here they led by 174 on first innings and, on a pitch offering so much assistance, really should have been able force victory.

But, if they squandered the game against Yorkshire with a session of poor batting, this time it was seized from their grasp by a brilliant performance from Chopra. Worcestershire, on this occasion, have little reason to chastise themselves.

This result will sting, though. If Worcestershire are to have any hope of avoiding relegation this year, they know they must take such opportunities. It's a point their director of cricket, Steve Rhodes, knows only all too well.

"I think a draw would have been a fair result," Rhodes said. "I don't want to sound like Arsene Wenger, but Warwickshire definitely had the rub of the green. The miracle was Chopra's innings. It's unbelievable that he batted for eight hours on that pitch. He played very well.

"But it's also a miracle that we didn't take more than three wickets on the third day. That pitch is ripe for 13 or 14 wickets a day and we bowled well. The ball beat the bat on so many occasions, but either they didn't edge the ball or the edges fell short of the slips. I'm bitterly disappointed."

That's understandable. Despite playing much admirable cricket, Worcestershire find themselves with just 11 points from two games. If they can sustain the many good qualities of their play at present, however, they will surely enjoy better days before the summer is out. The arrival of Saeed Ajmal will, no doubt, help.

Not for a moment did it appear Worcestershire would get close to their target on the final day. True, Alexei Kervezee, driving crisply, shone for a while. But for all his talent and promise, Kervezee still gives his wicket away a little too freely and it was no surprise when he drove an unremarkable delivery to extra-cover. As Rhodes put it: "Was he there for us at the end? He has to learn." Kervezee, aged just 21, is another with time on his side. There may well not be a more naturally gifted batsmen in the country.

It was not that Worcestershire batted badly in their second innings. It was just that the pitch had deteriorated to such an extent that an unplayable ball was never too far away. Vikram Solanki, for example, looked in fine form, but received a horrid delivery that reared from a good length and took the shoulder of his bat. It would, I suspect, have dismissed Bradman.

Not all his colleagues were so innocent. James Cameron edged a wild slash, Moeen Ali drove obligingly back to the bowler and Damien Wright left one from Woakes that was delivered wide of the crease and angled in to clip the top of off stump. But Mitchell was caught at short-leg as he struggled to deal with the bounce and Matt Pardoe was caught down the leg-side off the glove. Both might consider themselves unfortunate. Gareth Andrew, too, was the victim of a fine ball, angled across him, at which he had to play.

Earlier, a merry innings from Ant Botha helped Warwickshire set a target of 288 to win in 75 overs. The visitors lost 5 for 8 at one stage, but Botha, putting bat to ball, ensured that Warwickshire were able to judge their declaration to perfection: never realistically threatened, but just close enough to encourage Worcestershire's young and a little green batsmen to have a dart at it.

Chopra was eventually dismissed by an unplayable ball that kicked off the pitch and took his glove on its way to slip, while Jim Troughton, who has not made a championship half-century since April 11 2010, drove to mid-off in the chase for quick runs.

Meanwhile, it's interesting to note that there were 71 byes in this match. The conditions were testing, for sure. But 71? Both keepers, young and promising though they are, have much work ahead of them if they are to prosper at this level.

Worcs 4th innings Partnerships

1st6DKH MitchellJG Cameron
2nd40VS SolankiJG Cameron
3rd7MM AliJG Cameron
4th41MM AliAN Kervezee
5th9AN KervezeeMG Pardoe
6th66GM AndrewAN Kervezee
7th10GM AndrewOB Cox
8th10DG WrightOB Cox
9th0MS MasonOB Cox
10th10A RichardsonOB Cox