Price holds up Warwickshire's run to title

Warwickshire 298-6 v Worcestershire
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The Independent Online

By the time they come to lift the County Championship trophy - which, barring a natural disaster, they will - it will be a wonder if Warwickshire will have the strength left to do so.

By the time they come to lift the County Championship trophy - which, barring a natural disaster, they will - it will be a wonder if Warwickshire will have the strength left to do so.

They are making such hard work of batting, something that for much of the season seemed to come as naturally to them as breathing, or winning the toss, which they have now done 12 times out of 15, that they will be exhausted come the moment of triumph.

For 10 matches in the build-up to the month-long run-in Warwickshire had passed 400 in the first innings on every occasion, picking up maximum points each time. Suddenly, with the finishing line in sight and a mere 20 points (18 by last night's close) required to guarantee the title, scoring runs has become the most difficult thing for them. In their previous two matches against Gloucestershire and Sussex they did the unthinkable and failed to get maximum batting bonus points.

And now, against Worcestershire, they look like completing a hat-trick, after first getting bogged down for much of the first two sessions, then as the afternoon moved into evening and the new ball was taken, losing vital wickets as well.

Chief architect of their problems here was Worcestershire's Ray Price, one of the so-called Zimbabwe "rebels". His left-arm spin claimed the valuable wickets of the Warwickshire captain Nick Knight and the England new boy Ian Bell, although not before the latter had passed 50 for the eighth time in his last nine innings for county and country - an innings witnessed by England's selectorial team of David Graveney, Geoff Miller and Rod Marsh.

Price, 28, bowled aggressively and with a deal of wit; now teasing, now coaxing, then striking. Bell was looking to force one through the off-side, but a bit of extra bounce and turn resulted in an edge to Graeme Hick at slip, to end a stand of 86 in 28 overs. His partner Knight, who had laboured for some two and a half hours over his 37, contrived to push at a delivery which ended up as a bat-pad take for the alert Ben Smith at silly mid-off.

Jonathan Trott and Michael Powell managed to restore a semblance of the natural order - Worcestershire need to beat their Midlands rivals and win their final match at home to Lancashire if they are to guarantee remaining in the top flight - with a solid 131-run stand.

Then Powell, three hours into his role of anchor, had a rush of blood and attempted to pull a ball from Nadeem Malik out of the ground. He mishit and Price took a comfortable catch at mid-on.

And that heralded a spell of misery and mayhem for the would-be champions when Worcestershire took the new ball. Andy Bichel ended Trott's contribution when the South Africa-born batsman's patience finally snapped after almost four hours of grind, during which time he passed 1,000 Championship runs, Trott driving impatiently to Smith in the covers.

The next over Matt Mason sent down a brute of a ball to Dougie Brown that took off, found the edge of his bat and Andy Hall took the catch in the slips. It all added up to too few runs and more hard work today.

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