A ground as beautiful and as picturesque as New Road does not deserve a fixture like this. With two teams desperate to avoid slipping back to Division Two, one of England’s delights looks set to be subjected to a four-day scrap more suited to the village green.
Worcestershire and Sussex go into this game just four points apart and on either side of the relegation barrier. With nearest-rivals Somerset having played one fewer game, should either side face defeat in four, or fewer, days’ time, then plans for Division Two cricket may well be a solemn realisation.
The Pears’ Joe Leach has already done his mathematics, labelling Sussex’s visit as one of “three cup-finals” for Worcestershire, with a trip to Durham and a home tie against Middlesex still to come in the Championship season. Sussex, meanwhile, entertain Somerset and then finish with a trip to Yorkshire as they look to avoid their first relegation from Division One since 2010.
This week’s hosts were also relegated five years ago, an unsurprising coincidence given the yo-yo reputation the Midlands outfit have obtained over the past ten years. Hampshire, promoted with Worcestershire last year, currently occupy bottom spot, so a win could all but secure safety for either Sussex or Worcestershire should they claim the spoils at New Road.
The signs are promising for Sussex, who gave an assured display against Champions-elect Yorkshire in their last outing at Hove as centuries from skipper Ed Joyce, Michael Yardy and Ben Brown denied the White Rose in their bid for successive County Championship titles. Worcestershire, meanwhile, were grateful for rain at Taunton following James Hildreth’s double-century for Somerset – the eighth best score of the English summer.
You have to go as far back as April for the reverse fixture, when Ajmal Shahzad’s five second innings wickets blew Worcestershire away at Hove to give Sussex one of just three Championship victories so far this campaign. A fourth this week would almost certainly keep them in the upper tier in 2016.
Folk-hero Jack Shantry requires just one wicket to reach 50 Championship matches for the season, and it would take a brave man to bet against him reaching the accolade at New Road. Shantry has the best average of any regular Worcestershire bowlers.
Unsurprisingly, Shantry was also instrumental in the Pears’ two victories in 2015, taking 4/15 in Hampshire’s second innings in the thumping result in July after taking 5/51 against Somerset back in April.
Batsman Matt Machan also starred in the aforementioned victory at Hove, scoring 135 and 55 in his only game against the Pears to give Sussex a 61-run victory on the South Coast, with his first-innings effort coming off just 100 balls with 18 fours and a quartet of maximums to put his side in command.
Despite his side languishing in the wrong half of the table, Machan is enjoying a reasonably prolific year with the bat, making three centuries and three 50s to obtain an average of 43 from his 11 Division One games so far – the best of anyone at the Club.
With Worcestershire opting for the pace of West Indian Shannon Gabriel for the last two games, Saeed Ajmal will be playing his last game of the season for Pears, needing four wickets to reach 100 LVCC scalps for the New Road side.
Ajmal is part of a 12-man squad for Sussex’s visit, with the XI who played against Somerset last time out joined by batsman Ed Barnard.
Worcestershire squad: Daryl Mitchell (captain), Saeed Ajmal, Ed Barnard, Joe Clarke, Ben Cox, Brett D’Oliveira, Tom Fell, Alex Gidman, Joe Leach, Charlie Morris, Jack Shantry, Ross Whiteley
Having missed the entirety of 2015 so far due to injury, Lewis Hatchett is a welcome returnee to the Sussex squad following a handful of appearances for the second XI.
Michael Yardy, who averages over 70 at the ground, prepares for his final appearance at New Road.
Sussex squad: Ed Joyce (captain), Ben Brown (wicketkeeper), Lewis Hatchett, Chris Jordan, Chris Liddle, Matt Machan, Steve Magoffin, Chris Nash, Ollie Robinson, Luke Wells, Luke Wright, Michael Yardy, Ashir Zaidi
Weather and Conditions
It could be a game for the bowlers at New Road, with plenty of cloud about for all four days with perhaps a glint of sunshine and cool temperatures as we head into autumn. Thankfully, it seems the rain will stay away during the hours of play.
Date: 1st – 4th September 2015
Umpires: Steve Gale & Neil Mallender
Odds: Worcestershire 10/11, Sussex 4/5