On the face of it, Worcestershire’s bid for the County Championship title looks over. With four games to go, they trail the leaders Nottinghamshire by 35 points. Nottinghamshire are yet to lose and have the strongest squad in the section.
The bookmakers agree. The odds on Notts completing the season in No 1 position are microscopic. Betway go -1400. While Ladbrokes, Coral, BetVictor and Bet365 are ‘best’ at -1100. Worcestershire are as big as +4000 with Ladbrokes and Coral.
Ordinarily we would let this slide. Historically it is very tough to make a case for a team to lose top spot from such a position of strength. It never happens. But this isn’t a normal season in the county game.
Well, it had been up until about Monday afternoon. That was when Worcestershire announced they had signed Ravi Ashwin, the India spinner. That was a historic. Essentially, Ashwin is one of India’s top three players. He is the No 3 bowler in the world according to the ICC.
In short, the county game has not seen the like of such Indian talent for aeons. It is a major coup and is significant enough to strap on our betting boots and wade into that price about Worcestershire.
With Ashwin in their ranks it is relatively easy to see Worcestershire winning all four of their remaining games. The wickets are more worn at this stage of the season so he will get plenty of grip. Not that he needs it. This is a man who wrecks Test batting line-ups without breaking sweat. He should pulverise county teams.
One of those teams is Nottinghamshire. The teams meet at Trent Bridge in early September. A win for Worcester there could see the deficit reduced to something far more manageable for the New Road club.
That fixture is the only one Worcester will have to play away from home. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the groundsman will be instructed to ensure the pitches suit Ashwin’s brand of spin. Ashwin took 17 wickets in three Tests as India thrasjed Sri Lanka - as we said they would in this column - on Monday. He took 28 wickets in India's 4-0 series win against England last year.
But he won’t just bring wickets. He will add valuable depth to the the Worcestershire batting, possibly being used as high as No 6. He averages 32 in Tests, which is more than most top-order Test players and he boasts four centuries.
In short, this guy is a one-man team. What he could for Worcester is what Mushtaq Ahmed, the Pakistan spinner, did for Sussex in 2003 when they won their first pennant. Mushtaq was probably not as good as Ashwin but his impact was seismic as the county landed whopping odds. Make sure you act fast, though, as punters will cotton on.