Worcestershire closed Day 2 of their 3-day first-class contest against Oxford MCCU firmly in command of the game and displaying the kind of control one would expect from County opposition.
Oxford had begun the day with all wickets intact and looking to get somewhere close to the visitors’ 348-4 declared and started with a steady enough opening partnership of 49 between Sam Agarwal and Lloyd Sabin. But the home side’s innings began to wobble, as Richard Jones made inroads into the top order, dismissing Sabin (11), Owain Jones (9) and then Agarwal (39) before Jack Shantry added the wicket of Freddie Coleman (11) to leave the hosts in trouble at 95-4.
But with the sun shining and a track that has changed little from its road-like status on Day One, Oxford’s 5th wicket pairing of Thomas Fell and Wilfred Marriott ensured that their side moved past the follow-on target of 198. Batting with patience and assurance, Fell made 33 from 71 balls but after his dismissal Marriott simply lacked the support from his lower-order that was needed to compile a competitive total.
Oxford’s numbers 7 to 11 eked out just 15 runs between them before Marriott was the last man to fall, handing a return catch to Graeme Cessford after having made well-deserved 81. Richard Jones was the pick of the Worcestershire bowlers, finishing with excellent figures of 5-45 from 11 overs whilst Oliver Cox had a very profitable day behind the stumps, falling just one catch short of an all-time first-class record of catches in an innings by a single player with no less than seven victims.
Worcestershire, hoping to find some form for their batsmen after a tough start to the season, rejigged their batting order, handing opening duties to Alexei Kervezee, who made just 3 in the 1st innings and Neil Pinner. The pair ended the day on 80 without loss, but Kervezee was put down early on by Oxford keeper Stewart Davison, who spilled a tough chance diving low to his left. Pinner then enjoyed a touch of fortune, as a shanked pull short fell agonisingly out of reach of the despairing mid-wicket fieldsman.
Speaking on the boundary’s edge, Richard Jones was pleased with his side’s effort during the day: “It’s still a good pitch for batting but it swung for me today and I managed to put enough balls in the right areas and Coxy really helped me out behind the stumps. We looked after the ball well, which is important on a day like today on a flat pitch, so it has been a good effort from us to dismiss Oxford for just above 200.
“They’ve got some good players. We’ve come up against Sam (Agarwal) a few times now and he looks a good player and we know Felly (William Fell) from the Academy at Worcestershire.”
With the County side well ahead of the game, captain Daryl Mitchell faces a dilemma as to whether he declares early or allows his out-of-form batsmen some time in the middle to gain some much needed confidence.
“We might let our guys get a bit of practice because they’re in need of some. It would be good for Kervezee to find some form and he’s looking set on 40 odd so the skipper might want to let them bat on for a bit,” said Jones.
From Oxford’s point of view they may feel slightly disappointed that they have not pushed Worcestershire as hard as they did when they played County Champions Warwickshire earlier on in the season, but father of wicketkeeper Stewart, Eric Davison was realistic about the host’s fortunes.
“On a track like this they’re always going to struggle more as opposed to the game against Warwickshire where they had more assistance from the pitch. They’re playing against experienced pros who can use their nous and experience to control the game better, so it’s been tough going.”
Oxford will hope to limit the run rate of Worcestershire’s openers in the morning session on Day 3 and regardless of whether the visitors put in a positive declaration or not, it looks like the MCCU side will be holding on for a draw. There have been plenty of positives to take from the first two days nonetheless and they will be hoping for plenty more on the third and final day of what has been a great learning experience.