By Neil Hallam at Derby
First day of four: Derbyshire 280 v Worcestershire
THOUGH neither Derbyshire nor Worcestershire can have been content with their performances on a slow seaming pitch, individual contributions from Stuart Lampitt, who took five for 33, and Robin Weston, with a disciplined 84, spared both the worst consequences of their shortcomings.
Worcestershire, who opted to bowl on a green-tinged slow seamer, will be unhappy at allowing Derbyshire's tail-enders to increase the total to 280 with 99 runs for the last four wickets.
Derbyshire will count up the dismissals which owed most to errors of judgment or execution and regret that the object lesson of Weston's restraint and selectivity fell on stony ground.
Weston, who had a batting average of under 10 when he was released by Durham last season, will have found extra satisfaction in doing well against a county to which he looked in vain for re-entry to the championship earlier this summer.
With his third half-century in only four championship games since Derbyshire offered terms in mid-season, Weston confirmed his solid technique and sound temperament.
The enterprise of Karl Krikken, Phil DeFreitas and Trevor Smith revived Derbyshire from 181 for six and by the time Worcestershire cleared this obstruction with 13 overs left the light was too murky to permit their reply.
Day 2: Derby close in after skittles
By Neil Hallam at Derby
Derbyshire 280 & 168 v Worcestershire 104 & 53-3
IT says much about technique and attitude that it is becoming commonplace this season for pitches to be judged blameless on days when the fall of 15 or more wickets compels umpires to file official reports to Lord's.
As 23 fell at the County Ground, Worcestershire caved in punily for 104, Derbyshire capsized feebly for 168 and Worcestershire, in purely theoretical pursuit of 345 to win, slid to 53 for three in their second innings.
The official response of umpires Nigel Plews and Ray Julian will probably read: ``Pitch blameless. Batting awful.''
The odd delivery did seam off a slow pitch but it was movement through the air which did most to prompt the inadequate and reckless strokes and faulty judgments on a day on which the dressing-room doors did well to stay on their hinges.
Derbyshire must surely win but what at one stage seemed a saunter towards a fourth championship success became a panic-stricken dash from one shell-hole to the next after they had added 54 runs to their first-innings lead of 176.
Tom Moody, with five for 64, and Phil Newport, four for 44, underlined the fact that the ball does not need to swing much to make nervous wrecks of batsmen.
Once Michael Slater had sliced to slip, Derbyshire lost four wickets without addition and six went for 18 in eight overs before Ben Spendlove and Karl Krikken opted to attack in a stand which yielded 50 in seven overs of Keystone Kops cricket.
If Worcestershire cherished any hope of avoiding a fourth consecutive championship defeat they were quickly disappointed by more flimsy batting.
Phil DeFreitas had been simply too good for Worcestershire's top order with three for 10 in their first innings, when only Steven Rhodes got beyond the teens, and the same applied in the final hour of an eventful, if hardly uplifting day. Elliott Wilson speared to gully, Philip Weston fell working off his legs and Nathan Batson became the umpteenth batsman to look utterly bewildered by the swinging ball.
When the close came three overs early, the reason was that the sun was blinding the batsmen. But most had been groping all day.
Day 3: Dean spares blushes for Derbyshire
By Neil Hallam at Derby
Derbyshire (280 & 168) bt Worcs (104 & 316) by 28 runs
DERBYSHIRE, so disciplined and resourceful in beating Leicestershire to reach the final of the NatWest Trophy, were unrecognisable as the same side only four days later in a slapstick display which prompted exasperation and disbelief before they claimed a 28-run victory over Worcestershire with well over a day to spare.
For Worcestershire it was a fourth consecutive championship defeat and the satisfaction of getting so close to a steep target of 345 after resuming at 53 for three had to be weighed against the fact that Derbyshire spilled six catches, three of them off Vikram Solanki as he pulled and drove fluently to a career-best 170.
He and Moody, the overnight batsmen, had already been missed once each the previous evening and Solanki was spared twice more against the left-arm seam of Kevin Dean as Ben Spendlove dropped him at second slip on 32 and Ian Blackwell made a mess of a simple effort at mid-off on 144.
Dean took five for 90 to give him nine for 142 in the match and 52 wickets in first-class cricket this season, somehow managing to keep his hands off the throats of the culprits as Phil Newport survived two more chances off his bowling.
Phil DeFreitas took five for 95 (eight for 105 in the match), but Dean's perseverance and quality did most to extend a profitable run in which Derbyshire have lost only once in their last seven matches in all competitions.
Even Dean was erratic in his first spell as Worcestershire sped off with 79 in a dozen overs before Moody was uprooted by a full toss.
Solanki rattled to his second championship century, off 100 balls, his second fifty coming off only 33.
Leatherdale expertly donated the strike in a fifth-wicket stand worth 100 in 20 overs before he fell working to leg and Derbyshire's hopes rose sharply when Steven Rhodes carved to backward point and Stuart Lampitt was unbalanced by Dean's late inswing.
Newport proved more durable and fortunate, however, in a stand of 79 in 17 overs but the return of DeFreitas and a catch at square leg by Michael May yielded the crucial breakthrough.
Matt Rawnsley became the 15th lbw victim in the match when he misjudged a slow full toss and with only Bobby Chapman left for support Solanki was pursuing the only option left when he carved high to the cover boundary after hitting 31 fours and a six in a 188-ball innings.
For Derbyshire, it seemed, the celebrations contained as much shame-faced relief as glee.