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Greg Smith successfully retraced past footsteps as Leicestershire continued to make life difficult for Worcestershire despite Saeed Ajmal’s return of 4-66 for the LV=County Championship Division Two leaders at New Road.
Six years after scoring 150 for England against New Zealand in an under 19 international on this ground, opener Smith continued his recent terrific form with a fluent 85 off 138 deliveries to help County close in on Worcestershire's 321.
But all along there was the spectre of Ajmal, who again shone in his last appearance before leaving for Pakistan's short tour of Sri Lanka. In the first innings of his ninth LV=CC match of the summer, the mystery spinner took his tally to 60 wickets.
That meant Leicestershire, who looked to be cruising on 194-2, were dismissed for 280 in a mirror image of Worcestershire’s collapse from an opening stand of 163.
County lost eight wickets for 86 - the last three in 11 balls from Joe Leach - as Worcestershire claimed maximum bowling points for the 23rd match in a row.
With the pitch increasingly favouring bowlers, there was still time for another twist late in the day. Leading wicket-taker Nathan Buck (6-1-21-2) fired out Daryl Mitchell and Tom Fell - both century-makers at Grace Road last month - in five balls, leaving the promotion contenders on 48-2 at the close, a lead of 89. Rich Oliver ended on 35 not out.
The Pears resumed the day on 317-9 and were bowled out for the addition of four runs as Charlie Shreck (15.3-5-50-2) had the stubborn Shaaiq Choudhry (42, 125b) caught by Angus Robson.
Smith's second half-century in a week, with significant support from Ned Eckersley (48, 69b) and Dan Redfern (57, 65b), disturbed Worcestershire’s tried-and-trusted strategy.
For much of the season, the seamers had taken wickets before Ajmal got to work, but this time Jack Shantry’s lbw dismissal of Angus Robson (11) was the solitary success with the new ball.
Smith imposed himself with his impressive driving against the quicker bowlers, and with Eckersley carrying on from three centuries in three innings against Worcestershire last year, Leicestershire created a base from which to hold off Ajmal.
The second-wicket pair picked off a high proportion of boundaries until the spin master made his breakthrough with a ball that kept horribly low. With Eckersley back rather than forward, he was bowled after a stand of 91.
Even then Leicestershire were able to kick on again with a flow of crisply struck strokes from Redfern, who found the boundary twelve times in his lively knock. However, the warning signs were flashing again when Smith, after hitting 13 fours, edged Ajmal low to Tom Kohler-Cadmore at second slip.
It was the last 20 minutes before tea that saw Leicestershire truly knocked off course. Having trimmed their deficit to 103, they lost successive wickets to the seamers, crucially when Redfern was lbw to Shantry after a 71-run alliance. Niall O’Brien (12, 15b) pulled Charlie Morris for six but offered a catch to Mitchell at slip next ball.
Ajmal then struck either side of the interval. Rob Taylor was out fifth ball, pushing to Alexei Kervezee at silly point, and Josh Cobb, after playing well for 30 off 49 deliveries, was lbw to one that turned.
Ajmal looked on course to pick up a seventh five-wicket haul of the season but it was Leach who cleaned up the tail at the cost of one boundary by Buck (4). Jigar Naik (12), Buck and Shreck (0) were the men dismissed, leaving James Sykes was 8 not out.
Ben Smith, Leicestershire’s Senior coach, said: “We were in a good position to take a lead. Looking back over the innings, I think the three wickets before tea was the period where it just fell away from us.
Then when you have a world-class performer (Saeed Ajmal) at one end, building pressure to get bowlers wickets at the other end, it’s very difficult to try and pull away. I don’t think we’ve given our wickets away. We may have got a little bit lax against the seamers but that’s the pressure he builds.”