Warwickshire on the brink of glory
Warwickshire are poised to wrap up the Division One title in the LV= County Championship after piling up a first-innings lead of 411 against Worcestershire at New Road.
Varun Chopra completed 1,000 runs for the season as he batted through to the 115th over to make 195 and set up the platform for a victory that would make the Edgbaston outfit champions for the first time since 2004.
A tea-time declaration at 471 for eight should give them all the time they need to avoid the heartache of last year when they were runners-up to Lancashire after failing to dig out Hampshire on the final day.
Worcestershire, after their first-innings disintegration to 60 all out, were reeling again when Phil Hughes fell at third slip to Keith Barker in the second over but some pride was restored as captain Daryl Mitchell saw them to the close on 100 for two, having compiled 42 not out.
One or two half-chances eluded Warwickshire until Rikki Clarke, bowling again after a side strain, captured the only other wicket to fall in the evening when Matthew Pardoe slashed a catch to point Ian Westwood at point on 35.
Chopra was the key batsman in Warwickshire’s bid to settle the issue with a match to spare and put an end to the sleepless nights experienced by director of cricket Ashley Giles in the heat of the title run-in.
Chopra’s application through 409 minutes - with national selector Geoff Miller in attendance - was a beacon for his team’s relentless approach.
An ongoing partnership with Jim Troughton eventually yielded 131 before Ian Blackwell and Barker corrected a minor wobble by putting on 80 in 13 overs.
The last shot before Troughton’s declaration said everything about a one-sided contest as young all-rounder Tom Milnes pulled Worcestershire’s leading wicket-taker, Alan Richardson, for six.
The softening-up process was carried out to perfection with no risks taken until Warwickshire had claimed the fourth batting point, necessary if they are to be champions this week.
Chopra, with a third championship century of the season on the board overnight, saw them to them to this objective with seven balls to spare of the 110 overs, although it was Blackwell who actually raised 350 with a dab for a single off Moeen Ali.
Worcestershire, to their credit, kept pegging away with a couple of catches by wicketkeeper Ben Cox, the first to remove Troughton for 54 and the next, from Richard Johnson, giving Nick Harrison his first championship wicket.
Medium-pacer Joe Leach quickly dislodged Clarke and, perhaps more surprisingly, he found a chink in Chopra’s concentration to bowl the opener after he had hit 27 fours from 358 balls.
The final chapter brought a barrage of boundaries as Blackwell and Barker both clubbed two sixes en route to 84 and 40 respectively.