Saeed signs off with Worcestershire victory

Saeed signs off with Worcestershire victory

Saeed signs off with Worcestershire victory

First published in Sport

LEADERS Worcestershire gave Saeed Ajmal a winning send-off as they overpowered Leicestershire by 204 runs at New Road in a major step towards securing promotion in the LV=County Championship.

The Pakistan off-spinner took seven more wickets in the match for a total of 63 in nine games, but this was by no means a one-man effort as a young seam attack, led by impressive all-rounder Joe Leach, played a big part in dismissing Leicestershire for 253.

A sixth win in 11 games has given Worcestershire a significant cushion in the promotion race before they have to cope without Ajmal for the last five fixtures.

He will fly home to Pakistan on Thursday, with memories of a standing ovation as he led the team off the field with second-innings figures of three for 81.

New Zealand seamer Mitchell McClenaghan will now take over the overseas slot and will make his first championship appearance against Gloucestershire at Cheltenham on Monday.

Ajmal's contribution has been immense, not only with six returns of five or more wickets but in creating the confidence for a fledgling team to develop more quickly than many would have envisaged following the retirement of leading pace bowler Alan Richardson.

This match began as top versus bottom and also finished that way but with the gap extended to 108 points, with one side undefeated in 13 matches since last September and the other now up to 27 games without a win in nearly two years.

Leicestershire were set a notional target of 458, which was 64 more than their record fourth-innings total in the championship.

However, this was the least of their concerns on resuming at 56 for two, with their main worry whether they could bat out the last day or whether Worcestershire could take eight wickets.

Yet the visitors were more competitive than the scorecard suggested. Opener Greg Smith again batted well, following his first innings 85 with 46, until his good work was undone when dragging a short ball from Morris to deep mid-wicket.

Dan Redfern was equally obdurate before becoming Ajmal's first victim of the innings, taken at second slip after making 29, and still there was strong resistance with a partnership of 54 in 15 overs by Josh Cobb and Niall O'Brien.

The first half-hour after lunch changed everything though, with four wickets falling.

Leach landed the key blow when Cobb (30) drove a slower ball back to him, and he then had Rob Taylor neatly caught at second slip.

Next it was Ajmal with wickets in successive overs, holding a return chance from Jigar Naik and bowling James Sykes.

O'Brien continued to frustrate Worcestershire, hitting 11 fours in his 57 from 79 balls until Morris returned to have the Irishman well caught by Tom Kohler-Cadmore, running back behind the wicketkeeper.

The last pair delayed Worcestershire's celebrations by putting on 47. Nathan Buck (29 not out) and Charlie Shreck (18) both hit sixes off Ajmal before left-arm spinner Shaaiq Choudhry was belatedly called up to have the latter caught by Leach at long-off.

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