Northampton (day two): Northamptonshire 168 (D J G Sales 50, S J Magoffin 4-49) v Worcestershire 216-3 (S C Moore 109, V S Solanki 64)
Stephen Moore’s fine 109, his second such score in the championship this season, helped Worcestershire assume control against Northamptonshire at Wantage Road.
The batsman was never under too much pressure after some fine bowling by Steve Magoffin and Kabir Ali early in the day helped set Northamptonshire up for the taking.
Taken they were. To the cleaners.
Make no mistake, the home side were desperately average and, on this evidence, it is little wonder that Warwickshire chased down 383 here last week to snatch such an unlikely victory. How they found themselves in that position is incomprehensible, given what Northants served up.
Take nothing away from Worcestershire’s performance, however, which was totally professional and uncompromising. They emphatically won every session in a day not once hindered by the elements. Had the weather held off in Worcestershire’s last two championship matches, they would probably have recorded wins; if it stays fine here, it is difficult to see anything other than the same result.
Kabir set the tone for what became a dismal first session for Northants. As if trapping Rob White leg-before with the first ball of the day did not provide a bad enough start for the hosts, the ineptitude of some of the batting that followed compounded their misery.
In the next over, Stephen Peters played on trying to remove his bat from a typically penetrative line-and-length ball by Magoffin before, in the same over, Riki Wessels wastefully chipped a comparatively loose delivery on the drive to Gareth Andrew at cover point.
Two wickets in two overs for no runs: That is how long it took Worcestershire to gain the ascendency, a position the visitors never looked like giving up. Wicketkeeper Steven Davies ended the innings with six catches and must have impressed watching England selector Geoff Miller with his all-round tidiness.
But for a well-timed, 106-ball, half-century by the portly David Sales, the home side would be out of the match already. From a perilous 33 for four, the former skipper rebuilt the innings with Lance Klusener until the South African gifted Magoffin his third wicket by prodding a wide one to Solanki at gully.
Nicky Boje looked desperately out of touch considering his first-innings century against Warwickshire last week. He had already been caught off a no-ball by Whelan before he finally paid for his reluctance to play Gareth Batty off the front foot, edging behind — 126 for six.
Whelan, in for Simon Jones and replacing Magoffin, had an eventful first over. After the Boje lifeline, Solanki took a superb diving catch at cover to dismiss Sales, the mainstay, but the umpires ruled that the ball did not carry.
Johann Louw left three balls after lunch, prodding gingerly with a defensive shot off Batty and edging behind. Magoffin dismissed Sales – caught behind – with a beauty of a ball, reminiscent of those jagging off-cutters sent down by another gangly Australian seamer who played for Worcestershire eight years ago . . . Kabir polished off the innings, having Monty Panesar caught behind.
It soon became clear that the pitch was less to blame for Northants’ incredulous batting than Worcestershire’s fine bowling. Barring the odd shooting bounce, the visiting batsmen dealt with the conditions commendably.
Moore, after scoring a disproportionate number of his early runs through third man, found his rhythm after Louw gave him every opportunity to establish himself. He bowled so wide that Moore (159 balls, 21 fours) was never regularly forced to play, so it was no surprise when a batsman of his undoubted application scored his century before edging to first slip off left-armer Lucas in the final over of the day.
Daryl Mitchell departed first, caught behind off Lucas to one of the few decent deliveries in the innings, before the Worcestershire captain looked equally untroubled until he chopped on to his own stumps on 64.
By the time Solanki (94 balls, nine fours) had reached his 80-ball half-century, he was picking holes in the field with such ease that he made the international spinners, not least Panesar, look terribly ordinary.
If only Miller had stayed around to see that.