Worcestershire 130 and 258 for 6 need another 134 to beat Nottinghamshire 118 and 403
Just when it seemed Worcestershire were in position to pull off an improbable victory at Trent Bridge, a late burst of destructive bowling tipped the balance back in favour of Nottinghamshire. Worcestershire had been favourites to win before the second new ball became available but they enter the final day suddenly facing a tall order to avoid defeat. They are 134 behind, with only four wickets in hand and the new ball has had only five overs of wear.
Yet, even if the final day has defeat in store for them, they can console themselves with the knowledge that the competitive spirit that enabled them to defy their status as relegation favourites last season remains intact. Chasing what seemed likely to be no more than a nominal target of 392 to win, they managed to reduced it to 157 while losing only Michael Klinger and Vikram Solanki. At that stage, with the pitch behaving as well as it had throughout the match, you would not have bet against them pulling it off.
But a partnership of 174 between their captain, Daryl Mitchell, and the allrounder Moeen Ali, ended when Ali, six short of a century, was caught behind off a slightly weary drive against Andre Adams. Then what had been such a promising position unravelled rather dramatically.
Nottinghamshire, by then a little ragged in the field and getting scant help from the pitch, were toiling. Once Moeen had departed, with the new ball imminent, responsibility rested on the shoulders of Mitchell to hold things together. Mitchell's task became more onerous when Ben Phillips, the right-arm seamer who has bowled well throughout this match, needed only six deliveries with the new ball to deal Worcestershire another blow, bowling Alexei Kervezee off his pads
Mitchell had played superbly, anchoring the innings for more than five hours. He had been granted an unusual reprieve during the morning, allowed to continue on 9 despite being apparently given out leg before by umpire George Sharp, who then reversed the decision when Adams, the bowler, declined to appeal.
He completed a fine century off 237 balls with his 12th boundary but faced only one more before Luke Fletcher bowled him. The ball was swinging for the broadly-built seamer and he struck again with his next delivery, badly misjudged by new batsman Ben Scott, who did not offer a shot. Now the Worcestershire target suddenly looked a considerable one.
In the morning, Nottinghamshire had added 48 runs to their overnight total, 25 of them coming in a typically violent assault by Adams. Riki Wessels stretched the century he had completed on Friday evening to 113 before he was leg before playing across one from Alan Richardson, whose five-wicket haul was just reward for carrying the heaviest workload among the Worcestershire bowlers, at 36, and as unselfishly as ever.
Substantial though it is, Worcestershire's target does not require them to break any records. In June 1996, at Bath, they chased down 446 to beat Somerset by one wicket with three balls to spare. Steve Rhodes, then wicketkeeper, now director of cricket, scored 92 not out. Solanki, aged 20 and in only his eighth first-class match, made 71.
He looked as if he might do something similar, if not better, for a while yesterday, but having been dropped at first slip on 20 he aimed a loose drive at Adams to be caught at backward point. He was annoyed with himself, with just cause. Another 50 or so from him and Worcestershire might still be favourites.
Instead, Nottinghamshire can anticipate a winning start to the season, having already had one piece of good news in the shape of an England Performance Squad that includes neither Alex Hales, who has appeared in four Twenty20 internationals, nor James Taylor, the England Lions captain who joined them from Leicestershire during the winter.
Having seen Samit Patel make his Test debut in Sri Lanka, Mick Newell, Nottinghamshire's director of cricket, had been worried his side's prospects might be seriously compromised should England see fit to fast-forward Hales and Taylor in their international development. To his relief, Jonathan Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes appear to be ahead in the pecking order.
Edited by David Hopps