CRICKET: TWENTY20 CUP
WORCESTER (Somerset won toss): Somerset 176-7 (2pts) beat Worcestershire 166-6 (0pts) by 10 runs
Two days after providing a near-full New Road with the most disheartening of displays, Worcestershire produced a much better effort against Somerset.
They still lost - by 10 runs chasing 177 - and are outsiders to qualify from the Midlands/West/Wales Division for the quarter-finals; they could qualify as one of the two teams who sneak through in third place.
Once again they relied heavily on Graeme Hick, who was presented with a cap between innings for breaking the record for first class (or equivalent) appearances, one more than Graham Gooch. This was his 1,196th and the 42-year-old veteran produced a beautifully-crafted 63 (47 balls, five fours, two sixes) to give his side an outside chance of successfully chasing a decent total.
But the middle of Worcestershire’s innings was squeezed once again. The same suffocation hindered their efforts to chase at Northamptonshire, and this week to set a strong target to defend against Warwickshire.
Once openers Vikram Solanki and Hick were out, Worcestershire had problems. Pushing singles is simply not good enough; they must be punctuated by regular boundaries. Somerset hit 26 yesterday, including six sixes; Worcestershire hit 16, seven of which belonged to Hick. In 20 overs that is a big disadvantage.
Northamptonshires hit 26 to Worcestershire’s 18 last week and, in the one game that Worcestershire have won, they hit 20 to Gloucestershire’s 21, with Hick and Solanki accounting for 18.
Even with Somerset’s generous complement of 12 extras - compared to Worcestershire’s commendable one - the home side never managed to be ahead of the required run rate.
Four overs for 45 by Steve Magoffin let Somerset get off to a flyer. In contrast, some superb limited-overs bowling by the visitors’ Alfonso Thomas, who took four for 27 at the death and produced yorkers at will, helped keep Worcestershire at arm’s length.
Thomas was rightly named man-of-the-match for his sterling individual contribution - but the partnership between Ian Blackwell (43, 32 balls, one four, three sixes) and Peter Trego (47, 37 balls, seven fours, one six) took the match away from Worcestershire.
Somerset had lost three from four matches but in Marcus Trescothick and Blackwell they have two of the best ball-strikers in county cricket. Add Justin Langer, Trego, Omari Banks and Craig Kieswetter and you have a well-balanced top order of skill and strength.
Kabir Ali was excellent, dismissing Langer, Trescothick and Banks, but had little support. Kieswetter (32, 17 balls, four fours, one six) caused mayhem late in the innings - but 176 for seven was not a bad return.
Not even the bookmakers were willing to separate the teams at the halfway stage, pricing both at 5/6 to win. Such unenticing odds on a home win would have been lengthened once Solanki fell to Charl Willoughby, a caught-and-bowled that the seamer knew little about, for 11. Hick was accompanied by Ben Smith and Steve Davies, who hit 24 and 17 respectively, but at a run a ball - not quick enough in the context of the match.
Davies looked in control until he clipped a drive through mid-wicket straight to Langer, whose field-settings were unorthodox but well thought out.
Unorthodoxy brings its own rewards in Twenty20; it was anyone’s game after 15 overs when Thomas was bowling to a field with three saving one on the off side.
Worcestershire were 119 for three, where Somerset had been 123 for three and, most importantly, Hick was bashing it everywhere. But he fell to a Thomas full toss, hitting it down Arul Suppiah’s throat at mid-on. That was the cue for Worcestershire’s middle order to take the side home - but a lack of boundaries, four in as many overs, left them agonisingly short.