The standard of university first-class cricket is often derided, with the counties often fielding what amounts to a 2nd XI, and using the fixtures as a glorified net session. But Worcestershire were given a shock on Monday, when they became the first first-class victims of Loughborough UCCE.
Loughborough dominated all three days at Kidderminster, winning by eight wickets in the end, after forcing Worcestershire to follow on. Richard Clinton struck a first-innings century - and was rapidly recalled to the Surrey squad for the injured Graham Thorpe - and added 197 for the first wicket with Edward Foster.
After Loughborough had declared they then reduced Worcestershire to 0 for 3, as Stephen Peters, Stephen Moore and Ben Smith all failed to score. This was a weakened Worcestershire team - no Graeme Hick, Vikram Solanki, Chaminda Vaas or Kabir Ali - but they still included two Test cricketers in Zander de Bruyn, the South African allrounder, and Ray Price, the former Zimbabwe spinner.
de Bruyn blasted 81 but Worcestershire subsided for just 133, with Steven Clark, a 22-year-old right-arm seamer, claiming a career-best 5 for 29. They fared only marginally better second time around as David Wainwright, a highly promising left-arm spinner who is on the Yorkshire staff, also took a career-best 4 for 48.
Loughborough have been the strongest University Cricket Centre of Excellence - certainly in terms of their batting strength - for the last three years. They were not originally given first-class status, but this changed following a 2002 season in which they were not bowled out once in their three matches and passed 300 at least once against each county they played.
Jimmy Adams, now opening the batting for Hampshire, is a Loughborough graduate, and Vikram Atri is on the Nottinghamshire staff. The university has also produced John Francis, who is now shoring up the Somerset top-order, and the seamer David Wigley at Worcestershire. The students have the advantage of being based at the home of the England Academy, and Loughborough is rapidly overtaking Cambridge and Oxford as the main source of university cricketers.
Loughborough's victory comes hot on the heels of Surrey's defeat against Bradford/Leeds UCCE, and though that was not a first-class fixture, it shows they should not be taken lightly. Such a packed county fixture list means the big boys will continue to rest their main players in these games, but if they do they should be prepared for a shock.