New Road (final day): Worcestershire 146 & 245-6 (V S Solanki 114) drew with Northamptonshire 287
A sparkling century from Vikram Solanki helped Worcestershire secure a draw on the final day of their championship game against Northants.
With more than 180 overs lost to rain in the match and Worcestershire having endured the worst of the first three days, such a result was the most they could reasonably expect as they began their second innings requiring 141 to make Northants bat again. They still needed to show a degree of application that has not always been apparent this season, however, and could feel fairly well satisfied with their day’s work.
Certainly Solanki (154 balls, 16 fours and two sixes) was highly impressive. His delightful driving lit up a day that could have become rather mundane and, in compiling his third championship century of the season (and the 24th of his career), he showed the consistency that is worryingly absent from many of his colleagues. Nor was he alone. Although Stephen Moore departed in the first over, edging a sharp and well directed lifter to third slip, Daryl Mitchell battled hard and helped his captain add 95 for the second wicket.
Mitchell’s batting will never be described as beautiful but here he looked solid and particularly fluent when the seamers strayed on to his legs. With just one score over 50 in 14 innings as championship opener this season, however, he could have done with the four more required for a half-century. A well directed bouncer from Andrew Hall brushed his gloves, however, and left the jury still deliberating on Mitchell’s long-term future at the top of the order.
Ben Smith never looked comfortable. Though he may well have been unfortunate to be given out to a bat-pad catch, he had survived two near misses (one on two and the other on eight) and would surely have perished much early to a more athletic fielding unit. Indeed, this Northants team is remarkably cumbersome in the field and it is hard to recall a more plump slip cordon than David Sales and Hall. If they imagined each chance was a cake, they’d surely never miss one.
Graeme Hick was not at his best, either. After surviving an edge between slip and keeper before he had scored, he was beaten regularly by both spinners and finally fell attempting to drive over mid-off. Steven Davies simply turned a ball directly into the hands of short-leg, while Solanki finally fell top-edging an attempted slog-sweep.
By that stage, however, the match was as good as safe. Going into the final hour, Worcestershire were 104 ahead and Northants were happy to shake hand and accept the draw.
It was a performance that answered few questions from a Worcestershire perspective. Though Simon Jones finished with reasonable figures, he was flattered somewhat by dismissing the tail, while the way in which lower-order batsman, van der Wath, laid into Matt Mason on Saturday did not suggest his bowling has retained its previous nip or bounce. Indeed, the partnership of 120 between van der Wath and Klusener on Saturday showed just how reliant Worcestershire remain upon Kabir Ali. At one time Van der Wath struck Mason for three fours in an over and also came down the pitch to loft him for six.
There were mitigating factors for Worcestershire’s poor batting in the first innings. The pitch on the first day was very helpful to the bowlers and losing the toss was disproportionately damaging.
Yet the tally of just 14 batting bonus points this year tells its own story. The batting has let them down time and again this season and, at many other clubs, the director of cricket would be ringing the changes in terms of selection.
Not at Worcestershire, however. The club has adopted a consistent selection policy for several years which has served them pretty well. It has helped engender a positive team spirit and allowed players the confidence to play their natural games without looking over their shoulders.
At some stage, however, such a policy verges on the cosy. While they possess some of the most talented youngsters in the country in the likes of Aneesh Kapil, Moeen Ali and Alexei Kervezee, their progress to the first team is currently blocked by the presence of the senior pros. Quite right, too, one could argue; they’re there on merit.
But the danger is that Worcestershire could lose Smith, Hick and perhaps Solanki to retirement within a couple of years of one another. Stephen Moore’s future remains unclear (he is currently being courted by five other counties) and, at present, the younger generation do not look ready to fill the potential hole.
And nor will they unless they win more opportunity.
The transition of eras is bound to prove problematic, but how Steve Rhodes manages the change could affect Worcestershire for decades to come. It is interesting to muse on how Sir Alex Ferguson would manage the likes of Smith, Hick and Mason this September?
“It does hurt us that we’ve been struggling for batting points,” Rhodes said afterwards. “The conditions on the first day were very awkward, but we challenged the batsman to take responsibility today and Vikram and Daryl showed a lot of determination.
“The new ball is a piece of gold but we squandered it in this game. But Kabir responded magnificently in the second part of their innings and Simon Jones came back well to polish off the tail. I was really pleased with Matt Mason, too, and I wouldn’t read too much into the way van der Wath went after him. The batsmen gambled and it came off, that’s all.
“We do have some very exciting batters coming through. Moeen Ali is one and he has had plenty of opportunity but he hasn’t been as consistent as he would have liked.
“Sometimes you have to go through periods like that to develop. It’s a good learning curve for him. He’ll will come though because he has an enormous amount of talent and he’ll probably be a better player for these experiences.”