Worcestershire lost by 82 runs to Northamptonshire
No one, least of all a perplexed newcomer to the coaching business, could have envisaged the lasting damage that would be done to Worcestershire when they spilled a cast-iron victory opportunity at Grace Road five weeks ago.
Steve Rhodes, in his first match as head coach, diplomatically bit the bottom lip as the last six wickets fell for the addition of 33 runs and allowed Leicestershire to steal a win they could not have envisaged in the three previous days.
What Rhodes did not know then was that the giveaway would become a template for two more defeats, which have seriously undermined the Pears' plans to regain Division One status that was lost with last year's relegation.
Against Yorkshire a fortnight ago, a first-innings lead of 45 evaporated into a threewicket defeat and at Wantage Road on Saturday Northamptonshire cornered Rhodes' team on a turning pitch and gleefully secured their first Championship win of the season.
Worcestershire have lost three matches in a row for the first time in the six seasons of two divisions and a comprehensive defeat by Northants may be harder to take because of the home side's recent form.
They had lost five matches in a row in all competitions and, to all intents and purposes, their season was over after two cup quarter-final defeats in three days. " Previous coaches have been sacked for less," said the local Chronicle & Echo in warning Kepler Wessels that "the time to deliver must be fast approaching." The considered view from Worcestershire is that matches have been lost " when we should have pressed home our advantage." But Vikram Solanki, the first-year captain, rightly pointed to the good things - and there were several at Wantage Road - and said he might be more concerned "if there were no positive signs."
Shoaib Akhtar gave a tantalising glimpse of his wicked pace with six wickets in Northamptonshire's first innings but his influence on the match increasingly became peripheral as Riki Wessels put the home side on top with a century in the company of the lower order.
Shoaib's long run and his quota of no-balls in the over rate, which led to the deduction of two points against Yorkshire, and here, only a dollop of spin bowling improved the figure from minus ten on Thursday evening to minus one. This cost half a point.
Worcestershire lasted for only 64 minutes on the final morning. Monty Panesar, long identified as one of the country's most promising spin bowlers, took six for 77 in his second Championshipmatch in two seasons.
University studies at Loughborough curtailed his availability in that time but now he will be an essential performer on dry pitches.
Having taken seven wickets in the previous match against Essex, he looked a formidable slow left-armer in shooting through Worcestershire's batting.
The last five wickets went for 61.
Two were classic Panesar dismissals - Ben Smith and Kabir Ali pushing forward but beaten by turn and caught at second slip - and last man Matt Mason gave a bat-pad catch to short leg.
Seamer Johann Louw enjoyed the first success in Saturday's wrap-up when Zander de Bruyn followed a ball leaving him and offspinner Jason Brown took his 300th first-class wicket for Northants by flattening Shoaib's off stump.