Worcestershire coach Steve Rhodes is still pinning his faith in Shoaib Akhtar as the man to keep their season alive.

The maligned Pakistani Test star finally proved the matchwinner the county have paid a lot of money for when he saw off Gloucestershire virtually single-handed on Sunday.

With Shoaib having given Worcestershire an excellent chance of surviving relegation in the totesport League, Rhodes is looking for the speedstar to revive promotion hopes in the County Championship.

Twice, he has bowled his team into victory contention with excellent firstinnings bursts. On each occasion, both against Northamptonshire, he has then failed in the second innings with the ball as badly as the Worcestershire batting. Neither match was won.

Now it has got to the crucial stage of the season, where Worcestershire simply have to win.

They have two matches left, against the two sides immediately above them in the table, third-placed Yorkshire at Headingley over the next four days followed by the visit from Essex to New Road a fortnight tomorrow.

Admittedly, the Tykes and improving Northamptonshire, now up to within 12.5 points of Worcestershire, have an extra match in hand. But, if Worcestershire, who start today 15 points adrift of Yorkshire, were to win both of their final two matches, sneaking into that third promotion spot would become a distinct probability.

Rhodes said: "We know we've put ourselves in this position and, including the three totesport League games we've got left, we know we've got to win them all. But we also know that that is not beyond the realms of possibility. All I know is that if Shoaib can bowl like he did at Northampton and like he did for us on Sunday, when he was magnificent, we're going to win that game up at Headingley.

"We were going to rest him up on Sunday to be fighting fit for Yorkshire, but then Gareth Batty's finger wasn't right and it was the perfect opportunity to bring him back. He's had a good workout now, he went off for a rubdown with our physio after his first spell, which the umpires had no problem with and, hopefully, that will make him even more fighting fit for Yorkshire.

"It's been quite hard for Shoaib having not played much cricket prior to coming to us and we've had to nurse him along to get him fully fit but, when he is, you can see the results."

Rhodes still has a doubt about fellow Yorkshireman Batty, who has a cut in his spinning finger which did not stop him scoring runs in both innings in the draw against Leicestershire last week but left him struggling to hold the ball at the weekend.

Rhodes also recognises that there is another big name from whom he needs a performance; Graeme Hick. "Hicky's due some big runs," he said.

"He just doesn't go through seasons like this without getting another ton or two more and Headingley would be an ideal place."