At the end of a satisfying season, Worcestershire supporters will be delighted to see the county back in the top flight of the County Championship. The homegrown approach to team development has paid handsome dividends.
Director of Cricket Steve Rhodes can take great pride in the fact that, when the county clinched promotion against Durham, ten of the team had come up through the academy system.
The four consecutive wins that projected Worcestershire to promotion also took them above the powerful Nottinghamshire outfit, so that they go up as Champions. The win over Notts at Trent Bridge early in September was crucial. Typically, it involved a five-wicket haul for Joe Leach and a century for Daryl Mitchell.
Overseas players Ravi Ashwin, John Hastings and Nathan Lyon all contributed in differing degrees to the team’s success. But it was the local players who mainly caught the eye.
Daryl Mitchell bounced back from losing the captaincy to make over 1200 runs at a stunning average of 55. His seven Championship hundreds were the most for the county since Tom Moody clocked up the same number 21 years ago.
Joe Clarke’s silky batting skills produced almost 1000 first-class runs; and Ed Barnard and Damian D’Oliveira also made good contributions.
In addition to taking over the captaincy, Joe Leach delivered 69 wickets at less than 20 runs each. Ed Barnard and Josh Tongue were in close support, each with 47 victims.
Maybe the spin support was a bit thin – Ashwin only played four games and, in their equally occasional outings, Nathan Lyon, and Moeen Ali achieved little with the ball.
In the Royal London One Day Cup, Worcestershire also made a strong showing, topping the North Group with six wins plus a tie out of eight matches.
Before his mid-season departure to Yorkshire, Tom Kohler-Cadmore was the highest run-scorer. Daryl Mitchell topped the bowling averages with his dibbly-dobbly seamers. Although they took most wickets, John Hastings and Joe Leach were relatively expensive both in runs per wicket and per over.
Worcestershire avoided a quarterfinal match by topping the group. This meant, however, that they came into their semi-final not having played a 50-over match for a month, whereas opponents Surrey had won their quarter-final just a few days before.
On a blazing hot day, Gareth Batty took unseemly delight in defeating his former county with a mix of shrewd captaincy and canny off-spin that brought him figures of 5-40.
In the T20 Blast, by contrast to their strong showing in the other competitions, Worcestershire made little impact. Ten defeats out of 14 matches left them only one from bottom of their group.
Joe Clarke batted well and the two spinners, Mitchell Santner and Damian D’Oliveira, were easily the top wicket-takers as well as having the best economy rates.
Otherwise, it is best to draw a veil over the whole T20 campaign.
SSCC: 1st in Division Two
T20 Blast: 8th in North Group
RLODC: Losing semi finalists (1st, North Group)
SSCC: Daryl Mitchell, 1266 runs
T20 Blast: Joe Clarke, 381 runs
RLODC: Tom Kohler-Cadmore, 290 runs
SSCC: Joe Leach, 69 wickets
T20 Blast: Mitchell Santner, 13 wickets
RLODC: Joe Leach, 12 wickets
Player of the season:
Well, the player of the season is either Daryl Mitchell or someone called Joe.
Joe Clarke scored 1546 runs across all competitions with style and grace. Still only 21, he will assuredly interest the England selectors if he can score in the top flight of the Championship next year.
Joe Leach’s virtues as a determined fast-medium bowler have been apparent for several seasons. His captaincy skills have hitherto remained hidden; but in 2017, he led the side effectively. Maybe his batting results suffered slightly because of the burdens of leadership. In the field, however, he was very much in control.
Nevertheless, Daryl Mitchell is probably the right choice as player of the season. So many of his runs came when most needed. He is not easy on the eye, either as batsman or bowler, but when the pressure is on, he invariably delivers.
Ed Barnard followed a promising season last year with some consistent performances in 2017. He took 55 wickets with his fast-medium bowling and scored just under 1,000 runs in all competitions.
It’s not clear yet whether he is a batsman who bowls a bit or vice versa, or whether he can be that true rarity – a complete all-rounder.
Could have done better:
When a young man survives a life-threatening health scare, there is an understandable fund of goodwill towards him. Tom Fell has had both surgery and chemotherapy in order to overcome testicular cancer.
2017 should have been his comeback season but, sadly, he under-performed. For someone of his undoubted talents, a batting average of less than 15 across 13 Championship games was hard to understand.
Worcestershire showed their faith in him by granting him a two-year contract extension and he will surely repay that faith with improved performances next year.
Need to work on:
There is no doubt that it will be tough in the top flight next year: there won’t be any really weak squads; and a quarter of the eight teams will go down.
Five times in 12 years, Worcestershire have been promoted – only to be relegated the next year on four of those occasions.
Steve Rhodes knows the talent in his squad. He needs to ensure that his players fully believe in their ability to thrive at the top level.
Steve Rhodes and Joe Leach have apparently drawn up a short list of potential overseas players for 2018. Much will depend on availability. John Hastings has retired from all but T20 cricket and, though Ravi Ashwin must be high on the list, he is unlikely to be able to play the whole season.
The choice could be crucial for the team’s success.
Steve Rhodes has been appointed as head coach of the England Young Lions on an interim basis following the move of Andy Hurry to Somerset.
His role will end in early February, but Worcestershire supporters will hope that those key decisions about overseas appointments will stay high on his agenda.
As for how well the team will perform next year, it is hard to tell. Forecasting cricket results is one of the few activities to make astrology look respectable, but the latent talent in the squad suggests that the yo-yo years may well be over.
Promotion to Division One as Champions is a real achievement for such a young squad. There may have been disappointments in the T20 Blast, but the results in the One Day Cup show that the team can perform regardless of the colour of the ball.