Apr 272013

Warwickshire 158 (Thomas 3-29) and 144-3 (Chopra 81*) require 371 more runs to beat Somerset 406 (Petersen 136, Buttler 119*, Compton 52, Trescothick 51) and 266 for 4 declared (Compton 105*, Kieswetter 59*)Scorecard

Varun Chopra drives on his way to a century against Worcestershire, Worcestershire v Warwickshire, Worcester, April 22 2011Varun Chopra made an elegant 81 to keep Warwickshire’s heads above water © Getty Images

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Players/Officials: Varun Chopra | Nick Compton
Matches: Somerset v Warwickshire at Taunton
Series/Tournaments: County Championship Division One | England Domestic Season
Teams: England | Somerset | Warwickshire

At first glance, it may appear Warwickshire are in something of a tight spot in Taunton. At second glance, too.

It is true that they would have to break a variety of records if they are to overhaul their victory target of 515 in a minimum of 143 overs. Not only have they never scored more than 417 to win in the fourth innings of a first-class game (they made 417-2 to defeat Glamorgan in 1983, with Andy Lloyd – a year before his unfortunate collision with a Malcolm Marshall bouncer – making a century and Alvin Kallicharran a double-century), but only one team in the history of first-class cricket has managed as many as 515. And that match – West Zone, in scoring 541, beat South Zone by three wickets in the Duleep Trophy final in Hyderabad in February 2010 – was played over five days. For Warwickshire the draw is the more realistic target. And even that is ambitious.

But, if ever a side was to chase down 500, these may be the circumstances. On a pitch that remains flat and even-paced and against an attack that contains two teenage seamers and a 21-year-old spinner playing his third Championship match, Warwickshire’s openers constructed an opening stand of 108 with such ease that a Somerset side not unacquainted with snatching defeat from the jaws of victory could have been forgiven a few nervous moments. Had William Porterfield not been the victim of a disappointing decision – he was deemed out to a catch at short leg despite the ball not coming within six inches of his bat – Warwickshire might have resumed with all ten wickets in hand.

As it was, Jack Leach – a 21-year-old who may well find himself third choice left-arm spinner at the club once George Dockrell is fit and Abdur Rehman returns – claimed two wickets in two balls in the dying overs of the day to snuff out any hopes that might be building in the Warwickshire dressing room. Jim Troughton, who looks as if he may be suffering vertigo batting as high as No.3, left one that pitched on-line and would have hit leg stump – a fine decision from the umpire – while Ateeq Javid, as timid as a rabbit in a box of foxes, prodded his first ball to silly point. Warwickshire will resume on day four requiring another 371 to win. It is a most unlikely proposition.

Leach was impressive. While Warwickshire’s spinner, the former New Zealand international Jeetan Patel, dropped short relatively often and was hit over the top on several occasions, Leach’s control was so good that seven of his 15 overs were maidens. He is only on a summer contract and may find opportunities at Taunton limited but, on this evidence, there is no reason he should not enjoy a future at this level.

The fact that Varun Chopra remains into the fourth day may yet prove crucial, however. Such is his willingness to play away from his body, that bowlers must feel they are always in the game against Chopra. But, far more often than not, he connects with his back foot forces, his cuts and his drives off front foot and back that their hopes must often turn to despair. There are few more elegant players in England.

But, at a higher level, against faster bowlers capable of generating more bounce, one wonders whether it is a technique that would serve him well. It may prove that Chopra is one of several Warwickshire players – the likes of Rikki Clarke, Chris Woakes, Tim Ambrose, Keith Barker, Boyd Rankin and Chris Wright could all be grouped in the same category – who might be considered as top-end domestic cricketers, but not quite able to command a permanent position in the international side. From a county perspective, it is the perfect balance.

Certainly it was interesting to compare Chopra and Nick Compton, who made a century earlier in day to help Somerset to a declaration about an hour before tea. While Chopra is happy to aim strokes through point and cover, Compton leaves with admirable discipline in an attempt to eradicate risk from his game. Chopra may have more scoring opportunities and appear more elegant but Compton – for now, at least – looks the more compact, solid and likely to see off a hostile new ball attack.

To be fair to Compton, he did demonstrate a few more aggressive strokes as he accelerated in an attempt to set-up the declaration. He brought up his century – the 19th of his first-class career – with a beautifully struck six into the old pavilion and also unveiled some pleasing square drives and cuts. The manner in which he celebrated his century suggested his appetite for runs remain far from sated. With Craig Kieswetter, who batted fluently, he added 134 in 27 overs, looking increasingly comfortable against Warwickshire tiring attack.

Chris Woakes, who demonstrated the virtue of moving the ball both ways by trapping Alviro Petersen to one that nipped back off the pitch and James Hildreth to one that swung in, was the pick of the bowlers, though Chris Wright delivered a sustained spell of short-pitched bowling that might have bothered a player less assured than Compton.

The sight of Rikki Clarke leaving the pitch with a hamstring strain was not encouraging for Warwickshire. While he insisted it was not a serious problem, he must be a doubt, as a bowler at least, for Warwickshire’s match against Sussex starting on Tuesday.

Off the pitch, the Somerset chief executive, Guy Lavender, played down the chances of Chris Gayle joining the club in the foreseeable future. While Lavender reiterated the club’s desire to recruit the player at some stage, they consider him unavailable fir the FLt20 in 2013.

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