Essex 177 (Tongue 4-45) and 143 for 4 lead Worcestershire 238 (Clarke 105; Bopara 3-30) by 82 runs
If runs scored in a struggling team really do carry extra value, then Joe Clarke has done his statistics no harm in the last few days. After his 157 at The Oval last week helped Worcestershire end the losing run that had made for an unpromising return to Division One cricket, his 105 here was the difference between a hefty first-innings deficit against the defending champions and a workable lead.
Both hundreds, incidentally, have come since Ed Smith was appointed as James Whitaker’s successor as national selector, charged with rebuilding the standing of England’s Test team after a depressing Ashes winter. Whether this is significant may become known on Tuesday, when the first England selection of Smith’s tenure is announced. , He is probably an outside bet to be named in the squad for the opening Test against Pakistan but, if Smith is minded to make a statement by stepping away from the usual suspects, then Clarke will surely be one of those whose form has been scrutinised with particular interest.
Here at New Road opinion is divided, not on the matter of Clarke’s talent but over whether he is ready to be exposed to Test cricket. Clarke will not be 22 until later this month and with all young players there is a risk that a poor start under the pressure of international cricket will have a negative psychological impact.
“Am I ready to step up? Until you play at that level I don’t think you can know,” he said afterwards. “But to show that I can perform in the higher league after a few seasons in Division Two is pleasing. I’ll just try to score as many runs as I can for Worcestershire and let the runs do the talking really.”
These last two innings, the latest in particular, have shown a responsible side to his game. With only Daryl Mitchell able to stay with him more than briefly, drawing on his experience to steady a rocking boat after Brett D’Oliveira and Tom Fell had been dismissed within the first three overs of the day, the onus was largely on Clarke to make sure the previous day’s achievement in denying Essex any batting points was not wasted.
In that respect, he succeeded impressively. There was a wobble or two at the beginning, but for the most part his judgment of which balls he should attack was sound. Against an attack of this calibre, with Peter Siddle looking to sign off his five-match stint with the county on a strong note, making the correct decisions was essential. Yet when he did put bat to ball he looked in good order. Three of his 14 fours came in one over against Jamie Porter, two with muscular pulls through midwicket, the third driven serenely into the boundary boards at long off.
Only the end was disappointing, a push at a ball from Ravi Bopara that beat the bat and punished his tentative footwork. Bopara had also dismissed Mitchell is returning 3 for 30, although Siddle was the best of the bowlers, unlucky to claim only two wickets.
Essex overhauled Worcestershire’s lead for only one loss but suffered an unexpected blow when Alastair Cook, looking ominously well set on 66, offered no shot to a ball from Steve Magoffin that came back sharply to clip his off stump.
Bizarrely, Essex’s top three batsmen were all bowled by balls they opted to leave, which is an unusual occurrence to say the least. Little wonder that Bopara and Dan Lawrence chose to negotiate a gloomy last hour somewhat cautiously, although for not quite long enough in the case of Bopara, who was caught behind pushing at one from an impressive Josh Tongue just before seven o’clock, with 12 balls left in the day.