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Worcester, September 01 - 04, 2015, LV= County Championship Division One
210 & 237

Sussex won by an innings and 63 runs


Clarke offers solace as Worcestershire relegation looms

Worcestershire are 13 points adrift from safety with two games remaining after suffering a thumping defeat, by an innings and 63 runs, against Sussex at New Road

Sussex 510 for 5 dec (Wright 226*, Brown 103, Nash 90) beat Worcestershire 210 (Gidman 60*, Jordan 5-68) and 237 (Clarke 104*) by an innings and 63 runs
Worcestershire are 13 points adrift from safety with two games remaining after suffering a thumping defeat, by an innings and 63 runs, against Sussex at New Road. To make matters worse, the two counties above them, Somerset and Hampshire, have a match in hand. The upshot is that they will need to win their last two matches to have a chance of staying up - a depressing state of affairs for their director of cricket, Steve Rhodes, as he marks 10 years in charge.
They are the bald facts. But even on this forlorn day, as they lost with 26 overs remaining, there was rich consolation. Joe Clarke's maiden Championship hundred, from 174 balls with 14 fours, filled the afternoon with optimism, his achievement coming amid considerable tension with Worcestershire's last pair at the crease.
A delightful cover drive when Chris Jordan overpitched, with the last man Saeed Ajmal looking on from the other end, brought a rare purr on a day when Worcestershire returned to the bottom of the table for the first time since mid-June. Sussex, by virtue of their first Championship win in nine matches, advanced to fourth from bottom.
It was a close run thing for Clarke, if not for Worcestershire. When a succession of deliveries thudding into Jack Shantry's pads finally brought an lbw decision for Luke Wells - the fifth of the innings - Clarke was 97, the tea interval was pushed back and, with the new ball only two balls away, Ajmal walked out for his last contribution of the season for Worcestershire - perhaps his last ever - before he departs for the Hajj festival. That exit came with spread-eagled stumps against Steve Magoffin, armed with the new ball.
Rhodes' work ethic and determination has helped to keep Worcestershire honest since his rapid elevation to the top role upon Tom Moody's departure to coach Sri Lanka in 2005. He takes fierce pride in Worcestershire's self-sufficiency, committing himself ceaselessly to the development of young players, of which Clarke, a 19-year-old from Shrewsbury, is set to be a fine representative. Sussex's change bowling was limited, and the pitch remained quite sound, but he repelled two fine bowlers in Magoffin and Jordan as he played Worcestershire's one innings of true quality in the match.
Michael Vaughan watched him make 88 at Scarborough, his previous career best, and immediately tipped him as a future England batsman. England's selectors are already excited by his potential, regarding him as one of the best young batsmen in the country. Having signed a new contract, he may need to further his education in Division Two.
Worcestershire deserve that faith. This season, their overseas bowler Ajmal apart, they have at times fielded a side that has only ever played county cricket for the club. "Quite a feat I reckon," Dave Bradley, of BBC Hereford and Worcester, has observed, and so it is.
With three wickets already down overnight, and still 241 needed to make Sussex bat again, Worcestershire's fate looked as good as sealed at the start of the final day.
Three more fell by lunchtime despite showers robbing 12 overs from the morning. Slight unease began to gather for Sussex when the seventh-wicket pair resisted until mid-afternoon, but OIlie Robinson switched to offspin guise, which he first unveiled in county cricket against Warwickshire earlier this season, to bowl Ben Cox on the slog-sweep with a lavishly-flighted delivery. Seam is still very much his lead suit, but the affable manner of his offspin captures his laid-back personality. After that, it was a matter of awaiting Sussex's victory and hoping for Clarke's hundred. Both duly came.
As debates take place about the structure of county cricket, it is not a good time for Worcestershire to be a yo-yo club. If the decision is taken to reshape the Championship into two divisions of eight and 10 in 2017 then the likelihood is that there would be only one promotion place on offer next season. A lot of ifs perhaps, but not the sort of outcome that would suit a county that has had five promotions and five relegations in the past 12 years. For Rhodes, it has literally been a decade of ups and downs.
No side is too good to go down, as is habitually observed, but Sussex come closer to that assessment than most. They have been stricken by bowling injuries for much of the season, and like many counties their spin options are limited, but they have been vastly superior in this game. It helps, of course, when Jordan is fit again and giving every indication of a vigorous end to the season.
But Sussex, despite this win, cannot entirely relax. They have moved up to fourth bottom, 13 points clear of Somerset, 18 ahead of Hampshire, but both these counties have a game in hand and meet next week at Taunton in another significant relegation encounter.
At least one of these counties will be close enough to disturb Sussex with two matches remaining, making their final home match of the season, against Somerset the following week, another game that will have a major bearing on the relegation places.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

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LV= County Championship Division One