Leicestershire’s promising start was shattered by a catastrophic afternoon collapse.
Worcestershire’s opening stand of 48 between Jake Libby and Gareth Roderick, as well as their last-wicket partnership of 33 between Adam Finch and Dillon Pennington, were significant contributions in that context.
Worcestershire 178 (Mulder 3-27, Salisbury 3-56) trails Leicestershire 88 for 8 (Pennington 3-24) by 90 runs.
One can understand bowlers flinching at the notion of playing cricket in a place where pies are more of an obsession than a specialty. After all, Oakham is only ten miles from Melton Mowbray, and those tempted by the smells from Piglets’ Pantry would have discovered steak and ale, chicken gammon and leek, and chicken balti, all crammed beneath a thick crust that ridiculed good eating. However, it was the bowlers who gorged themselves, practically all of them enthusiastically feasting on a surface that rewarded archaic disciplines.
It was a day when even top-order, big-money cricketers could return to the pavilion after being dismissed and feel underutilized. They’d played faultless forward defensive strokes to deliveries that demanded such care, only to find the ball spitting away and taking the edge or jagging back and plucking off a stump. Worcestershire’s opening stand of 48 between Jake Libby and Gareth Roderick, as well as their last-wicket partnership of 33 between Adam Finch and Dillon Pennington, were significant contributions in that context. Between those alignments, Azhar Ali’s 34 was the day’s best innings, and his side’s total of 178 was close to par. When Leicestershire batted, they couldn’t get much out of Finch, Pennington, and Matthew Waite and ended up eight down for 88. Unless it rains, it appears that there will be no cricket here on Saturday.
And days like today seem to draw people’s attention. They devote themselves to the specific intensity of a quick match, maybe especially when it takes place in a section of the kingdom that few people appear to know well and on a day when the world’s gaze is elsewhere. Oakham is in deep England, a lush, dark-earthed farming area in Rutland, a county that many people outside its borders would have difficulty locating. The locals sipped Everards in The Wheatsheaf while the All Saints’ campanologists rang on throughout Tuesday evening, completely unaware that they were drowning out Stephen Hough’s performance at the Proms.
Even the names of the ends at Doncaster Close appear to have been forgotten since 1935, when the Kent Cracks were the first to visit this field and were defeated by ten wickets. “Sports Hall” and “Nursery” demand some modernists, but given a wide range of options, we chose “Allotment” and “All Saints” since they reminded us of timeless feeding of some kind. Drought-stressed leaves fell from trees, ironic given the rain that Oakham’s lead groundsman, Richard Dexter, had to deal with while preparing the pitch for this match.
The first hour of play was mainly about keeping an eye on things. Leicestershire’s bowlers held to their lines, and Worcestershire’s openers reacted with only a few pushes into gaps. Then, from the Allotment End, Tom Scriven blasted his first delivery down the leg side. There are four wides. Then there came a delivery miles outside off before Scriven’s sixth ball stunned Libby with its accuracy and enticed him to pluck a catch behind the stumps for Peter Handscomb. That is frequently the case. A spinner bowled the over before lunch, as if obeying some secret knowledge, but Callum Parkinson made no breakthrough, and Worcestershire finished with 74 for 1 on the board.
But they were in for a rude awakening. After the restart, Wiaan Mulder’s second ball swung away from Roderick, who nicked it to Handscomb. Mulder’s next delivery forced Jack Haynes to take a defensive shot, which he again edged to the keeper. A straight one from Wright had Adam Hose leg before for 5 in the next over, and the visitors had lost three wickets for five runs in ten balls.
Respectability, however shabby, was gained by the efforts of Azhar, who persisted in playing the ball as little as possible and as late as possible. While three batters, Brett D’Oliveira, Waite, and Joe Leach, all fell to Ackermann’s slip catches, Azhar gained runs as if doing so gradually delighted him in some way. He had 34 goals in 153 minutes before his first blunder, a grope at a ball from Matt Salisbury, proved his final. Mulder took the grab while diving to his right from the first slip.
Other games were going on, and they were being watched. Stuart Broad had dismissed Usman Khawaja at the former Trafford, and people remembered that Broad had gained his first Championship wicket at his former school, Oakham, in 2005, removing Somerset’s Mike Burns in the first innings and then repeating the trick in the second. The boyish joy was undoubtedly as strong in Manchester as it was on this field some 18 summers and a thousand years before.
The evening session provided lots of entertainment, but it provided little solace to the people. Innocent Rishi Patel nicked Pennington to Roderick in the fourth over of the game, but half of the eight home batsmen were bowled, either by straightened or jagged back balls. Mulder appeared to be at ease in making 21 before becoming Leach’s sole victim, and he may look back on his day with pride. And if Leicestershire fans needed any inspiration for tomorrow, it came from Rehan Ahmed, who finished the day undefeated on 25 off 39 balls and batted as if he didn’t understand what all the excitement was about.
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