Hick held as hosts keep sliding

Even the return of Graeme Hick to their championship side seems unlikely to arrest the decline of Worcestershire, who were made to suffer here yesterday, dismissed for a season's lowest total of 98 by a Gloucestershire side delighted to rub salt in the home side's wounds after the infamous NatWest replay.

Even the return of Graeme Hick to their championship side seems unlikely to arrest the decline of Worcestershire, who were made to suffer here yesterday, dismissed for a season's lowest total of 98 by a Gloucestershire side delighted to rub salt in the home side's wounds after the infamous NatWest replay.

Hick had not been available for a four-day match for seven weeks, having last appeared against Nottinghamshire in June. At that time Worcestershire, currently fifth, were top of the Second Division with a 10-point lead.

Given that others have also stuttered, Worcestershire's eight-point deficit is insignificant, although enforced absences will continue to affect them. They have not been hit as hard as Somerset, for whom Andy Caddick will probably complete the season having played in only three out of 16 championship rounds, but Hick may add no more than two appearances to his current count of five. What is more, Glenn McGrath is set to miss perhaps the next three rounds on duty with Australia.

An Australian did for Hick yesterday, just when it seemed that heavy bat was poised for a spot of bullying. An effortless off-drive and a meaty pull had just thumped into the fence, threatening to put Ian Harvey's modest medium-pace into context, but Hick then failed to resist a nibble at an outswinger from the Victorian and was caught behind.

A slow pitch and cloud cover made conditions favourable for Harvey, who wobbles the ball in the air and varies his pace to keep batsmen guessing. One-day cricket remains his forte but he did not give much away here. Switched to the Diglis end after claiming his initial success at the New Road end, he then accounted for Paul Pollard, leg before, and David Leatherdale, taken at first slip, as Worcestershire lost their top six for 59.

The early damage had been done by Ben Gannon, who reduced them to 13 for 3 in only his third championship match of the season. Elliott Wilson, apparently distracted by some movement behind the arm, lost his leg stump in Gannon's first over before Philip Weston, after a lengthy pause, was given out caught behind by umpire David Shepherd and Vikram Solanki, pinned in his crease, went leg before second ball.

Back in the pavilion by 4.30, Worcestershire would have been there sooner but for a 90-minute rain break, after which left-armer Mike Smith, another who prospers when the ball is swinging, finished them off by taking three wickets in the space of 12 deliveries, ending with two in two as McGrath and Alamgir Sheriyar nicked his outswinger. Having had Steve Rhodes caught at mid-off and Matthew Rawnsley trapped by the inswinger, Smith finished with 4 for 16 from 17.2 overs.

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