Leicester (first day): Leicestershire 121 (S P Jones 5-30) v Worcestershire 175-2 (V S Solanki 93no)
Simon Jones took a step closer to an England recall after a season’s-best performance in the county championship Division Two match against Leicestershire at Grace Road.
The Welshman took five for 30 as Worcestershire assumed total control of the first day with a lead of 54 with eight first-innings wickets in hand after a stellar performance with the bat by Vikram Solanki, who bravely limped his way to an unbeaten 93 (153 balls, 13 fours, one six) after being struck on the leg by a stinging delivery from Garnett Kruger.
But in the context of this match perhaps it was Solanki’s earlier contribution – winning the toss – which will prove just as crucial given the heavy overcast conditions and the greenest of pitches which faced the captains on the first morning.
Worcestershire made the most of the advantageous elements by dismissing the Foxes for their lowest score against any opposition in seven years before Solanki and Daryl Mitchell combined for a stand of 139.
That proved that the pitch was not only playable but conquerable.
Steve Rhodes, the Worcestershire director of cricket, said: “It’s been a wonderful day of cricket for us. We made our minds up pretty early on that we were going to bowl – but you are always a little bit cautious.
“The pitch is slightly two-paced so the batsmen never really feel in although we showed later in the day that you are able to bat on it.
“But we also bowled well, particularly Simon Jones, who has been rested for the past few Twenty20 games and was busting to get out there today. You could tell that.
“I was speaking to the slip fielders and Davo (wicketkeeper Steve Davies) afterwards and they said he was getting it through in the region of 85 to 90 miles per hour.
“It’s not as strightforward as everybody jumping on the bandwagon saying the selectors should pick Simon for England because the bowlers in the side are doing well and there are a lot of people competing to get back in it.
“I am sure Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard will have something to say about that but the sort of bowling Simon produced today would get international batsmen out, so in that sense he is playing at international level.
“Obviously I am delighted with his performance today.”
In Steve Magoffin, Kabir Ali and Jones, Worcestershire’s three strike bowlers are among the top five in the Division Two averages.
Their performances here only emphasised why that’s the case, especially that of Jones, who was unplayable at times. He is now top of the division’s averages having taken 24 wickets at a staggering 10.54.
This was as positive an indication that he is returning to his form of the 2005 Ashes since, well, his form of 2005 Ashes.
For some of the more experienced and learned spectators watching at Grace Road Jones’ second spell of three for nine off 5.5 overs was reminiscent of that produced by a certain Jeff Jones, Simon’s father, who took a career-best eight for 11 here in 1965.
It was impossible not to be impressed; and had any national selectors been present they certainly would have been.
No speed gun was necessary to see that he was consistently hitting the all-important 90 miles per hour barrier. Yes, he was aided by a strong wind, some overcast conditions and an encouragingly green surface – but he was the only seamer on show throughout the day who consistently achieved steep bounce.
With all the natural elements stacked in the bowlers’ favour, the toss looked and proved crucial, especially seeing as Worcesterhire had only a seam attack in the absence of Gareth Batty, who was absent for personal reasons.
Having survived a good appeal from the excellent Kabir in his second over, Tom Mew was then given out leg-before, unwisely not offering a shot.
Hylton Ackerman, one of six South Africans in the Leicestershire line-up, was also trapped leg-before but at least he tried to hit the ball.
When Matt Boyce was beaten for pace needlessly slashing at one and Boeta Dippenaar also edged to Davies, questions were raised at lunch, with Leicestershire 76 for six, about the suitability of a pitch that blended so effortlessly with the verdant outfield.
But there was no case to answer, according Peter Walker, the pitch inspector, who said it provided a good contest between bat and ball.
That was indeed the case; a point proved in Worcestershire’s innings by Solanki and Mitchell, both of whom rode their luck but recovered to bat well.
Mitchell was bowled on 12 off a no ball but went on to score 49 (123 balls, eight fours) and his captain, dropped at first slip by Ackerman on 29 off Nadeem Malik, went on to finish unbeaten at the end.
Solanki’s innings, dogged and determined, would normally have grabbed the headlines. He should go on to achieve his second century of the season and the 23rd of his career.
But the day was all about Jones and what might just be.
Meanwhile, Rhodes confirmed that the club were still looking for an overseas player but ruled out the possibility of Shaun Tait or Nathan Bracken joining the club instead of Fidel Edwards, the West Indian who has ruled himself out of finishing off the season in England due to injury.