Worcestershire 68 for 4 trail Hampshire 191 (Northeast 48, Barnard 6-50) by 123 runs
It's September, the pitches are seaming and Worcestershire are bottom again, in obvious danger of relegation. Not much changes, you might assume. Except it does because this time nobody in county cricket is blithely assuming that it is Worcestershire plus one other for the drop. This time, a talented young side suggests it is as well-equipped as anybody to survive.
But Worcestershire's defeat against Lancashire at Southport last week felt like an opportunity wasted, as well as Dane Vilas and Josh Bohannon must have played to turn the game in Lancashire's favour. It left Worcestershire and Hampshire in the bottom two, and encouraged the feeling that this is crunch time. With Hampshire dismissed for 191 and Worcestershire subsiding to 68 for 4 in return, both sides suffered some first-day bleeding.
A first appearance at T20 Finals Day in the Vitality Blast is also looming and for Worcestershire if the glass half-empty interpretation is that it could be a diversion from the task ahead, the half-full conclusion sees it as a statement of the development of a young side which Kevin Sharp, as head coach, has inherited so calmly since the removal of Steve Rhodes in unfortunate circumstances last winter.
When Worcestershire lost their captain Joe Leach to injury in early season, they lost the heartbeat of the side, taker of 193 championship wickets in the past three seasons. It felt like a blow they could not withstand, but on the first day against Hampshire Leach could stroll around the outfield with Winnie, his Mum's dog, with reason to hope that they can survive without him.
By the time of Winnie's perambulation, Hampshire had just been dismissed and Ed Barnard, an attacking allrounder with bat or ball, had returned the second six-for of his career, his 6 for 50 outdone only by his 6 for 37 against Somerset at Taunton earlier this season. Barnard epitomises the dash of this young Worcestershire side, relishing the fight and increasingly equipped to come out on top.
He knew, nevertheless, that it had taken Worcestershire, hmself included, a session to settle to their task. "We probably had the best of the conditions and didn't quite utilise them as we would have liked," he said. "But we came back strongly in the second session and have managed not to lose too many wickets tonight because that was a real tough session for the batters to go out and face those 20 odd overs."
Hampshire were in reasonable order at lunch, at 81 for 2, Barnard having removed Joe Weatherley with one that bounced a bit, but they proceeded to lose their last eight wickets for 110 in the afternoon, grateful for Sam Northeast's resistance before he was last out, driving at Wayne Parnell, for 48 as the last two wickets added 65, particularly tough for Worcestershire to take as they had coveted his signature so much in the winter.
Barnard found movement from an attacking length, Hampshire drove ambitiously and by the end Ben Cox, the wicketkeeper, and Mitchell, at second slip, had seven catches between them and Barnard had a post-lunch spell of 5 for 21 in nine overs.
Division One's leading wicket-takers make interesting reading. Barnard now lies fourth, with 41 at 20.31, trailing the Essex offspinner Simon Harmer, who has 44 and who has sustained his Championship-winning return unlike many of his colleagues. Most eye-catchingly, the top two are Lancashire's pair of Graham Onions and Tom Bailey.
Hampshire's afternoon collapse began with the loss of their Championship debutant, Oliver Soames, a 22-year-old student at Loughborough, who had grafted through the morning for 23, fancied letting his hair down against Barnard in the afternoon and immediately paid the price .
James Vince fell in similar fashion to Barnard, a little refinement fell out of the day and perhaps, over in the cathedral, a chorister dropped a book of psalms as if to reveal God's disappointment. Tom Alsop and Ian Holland nicked in turn and Liam Dawson, coming in at No 8, drove Barnard to cover. Five wickets in 12 overs, four to Barnard, had changed the complexion of the game.
Worcestershire struggled in turn and would have been grateful when bad light cut 13.2 overs from the day - two overs too late, they might have thought, after Daryl Mitchell's judicious 41 from 66 balls came to grief when he chipped a leading edge back to Fidel Edwards.