Division Two leaders Worcestershire gave Saeed Ajmal a winning send-off when beating Leicestershire by 204 runs in the LV=CC game at New Road.
The world’s number ranked test spinner took three wickets on the final day to take his season’s tally to 63 in nine matches as Leicestershire were bowled out for 253.
Niall O’Brien struck 57 (79 balls, 11x4) as County fought hard, just as they had done for the entire match, but it was not enough to halt the Pears’ promotion push.
Ajmal’s presence was always going to be key 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 a sixth win in 11 games. Leach and Charlie Morris matched Ajmal’s three-wicket haul.
Leicestershire were set a target of 458 – which is 64 more than their record fourth innings total in the Championship – so thoughts were rightly on survival given the overnight score was 56-2.
The team were competitive but Worcestershire picked up the remaining eight wickets before tea. 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 O’Brien.
The first half-hour after lunch changed everything with four wickets falling. Leach landed the key blow when Cobb (30) drove a slower ball back him and the all-rounder then had Rob Taylor (6) neatly caught at second slip. Next it was Ajmal with wickets in successive overs, holding a return chance from Jigar Naik (2) and bowling James Sykes (5).
O’Brien continued to frustrate Worcestershire, hitting 11 fours in a fine innings, until Morris returned to have the Irishman well caught by Tom Kohler-Cadmore, running back behind the wicketkeeper. O’Brien now has 699 runs in the LV=CC competition – only Angus Robson (764) has more for Leicestershire.
The last pair delayed Worcestershire’s celebrations but putting on 47. Nathan Buck ended with a career-best 29 not out to go with three wickets in each innings, while Charlie Shreck (18) again made a useful contribution. The duo hit sixes off Ajmal before left-arm spinner Shaaiq Choudhry was belatedly called up to have Shreck caught by Leach at long-off.
Ben Smith, Leicestershire’s Senior Coach, praised his team for a battling performance. He said: “It was a big ask to bat the day out but it wasn’t beyond us. Everyone felt quite buoyant at the start but we had a bad 40 minutes after lunch. We have shown a lot of fight and belief to play against a world-class performer in Saeed Ajmal. He doesn’t need the wicket to turn because he has so many subtle variations.”