Twelve Championship points. That is what ultimately separated Worcestershire’s season from largely satisfying to mildly disappointing. The fit of pique that won’t rest with many involved with the club is that if it were not for some incredible batting collapses, staying up in Division One would have been a walk in the park.
Against Sussex they were 60-0 overnight going into the final day chasing 247, only to crumble for 185. Against Durham, they let Scott Borthwick stage an incredible century and then fell apart while batting to hand the match on a platter. Against Nottinghamshire they were 193-3 chasing 324 and conspired to be all out for 210.
The downer is felt a bit deeper when reminiscing the way Pears took apart Middlesex in the final game. That was the blueprint of a perfect match and maybe the lack of pressure landed on them by the match being a dead rubber was what they wanted and subsequently lacked in the earlier part of the season.
Steve Rhodes, the Director of Cricket, is a loyal man and has given his young brigade the stage to shine and it has finally started to bear fruit, but on another sphere that loyalty could have undone him. Saeed Ajmal was the pioneer that guided Worcestershire to promotion but after the remodelling of his action, there were lingering doubts as to whether he can discover the moxie. His performances in the International matches after being cleared weren’t promising.
Ajmal returned 16 wickets at 55.62 each and was manoeuvred around county grounds dismissively. His successor for the final two games, Shannon Gabriel, extracted devilish pace and was unplayable at times. He set the match up against Middlesex with a lethal five-wicket haul and it is hard to consign to oblivion the question of ‘what if’ Daryl Mitchell had him instead of Ajmal for at least five more matches.
On final analysis, 10 defeats in one Championship season was a bridge too far. However, at least three or four of the downfalls were of Worcestershire’s making. Competing was never a problem but at critical junctures, the know-how to handle and absorb the pressure was lacking.
The Rapids were desperately unlucky not to book a ticket to the Finals Day again in the Natwest T20 Blast. Having won 10 Group matches and after landing a home quarter-final, the moonlit farce that followed against Hampshire was dispiriting. Ross Whiteley was the stand-out performer for the Rapids, and the 29 sixes he hit have meant that he is in the reckoning for a World T20 spot.
They never got going in the Royal London One-Day Cup, and it was largely forgettable apart from Leach’s hat-trick and Joe Clarke’s memorable 131 not out against Gloucestershire. Their plight was collated perfectly by that Northamptonshire match where Leach became only the second bowler in the history to take three wickets from the first three balls and had the Northants down and out at 19-6, before they clawed their way to 126 to eventually dismiss Worcestershire to 105.
LVCC: 9th, Division One
T20 Blast: Quarter Finalist (2nd, North Group)
RLODC: 8th, Group A
Leading run-scorer: Daryl Mitchell – 1412 runs
Leading wicket-taker: Jack Shantry – 89 wickets
Win %: 35.13
Players of the Season
Joe Leach surprised everyone with the rapidity of his rise to the podium but it would be gravely unjust to leave out Tom Fell for the amazing season he’s had. Leach and Fell are testament to the unbelievable behind the scenes work carried out by the Worcestershire Academy. Leach who was essentially a batting all-rounder last year produced some devastating spells with the ball and the fact that he was able to do it against quality line-ups only increases the mystique in his ascension. He ended up with 498 first-class runs and 59 wickets and was among the top five of the PCA’s most valuable player ratings. The hat-trick he took against Northamptonshire will live long in the memory of everybody who was present.
Fell reached 1000 runs in the final game of the season, and has shown the technique and compactness in ampleness that is required of a top quality batter. Particularly strong on the off-side with a delightful ability to drive the ball, all three centuries he compiled had a sense assuredness about them. Worcestershire is in dire need of a top order anchor to supplement Mitchell’s dogged sojourns and Fell, 21, has shown that he can be the man primed for the role.
You can have players who are genuinely talented. You can also have players who are very strong temperamentally. But you rarely unearth players who possess both. Nobody who has had a glimpse of Joe Clarke this year has stopped short of raving about the potential. 530 Championship runs, coupled with a sensational run in the Royal London Cup means that a lot is expected of him next season. He is already spoken of as a future England mainstay and nobody in their right minds would bet against it.
Could have done better
His overall input as an experienced head in a dressing room full of cricketers new to the razor can’t be underestimated, but Alex Gidman struggled to provide the main input he was brought in to offer: steadying middle order runs. He had his ups and downs with injuries and being hit viciously by Ben Hilfenhaus in June must not have been pleasant because it was a period where he was getting into his groove with few good scores. He needs to bring the A-game which proved a constant delight for Gloucestershire fans over the years next season.
Need to work on
Unforeseen batting collapses. This was the leading downfall of the campaign. Failure to see out a situation when in peril during the beginning of the season ultimately proved costly. Those occurred during a single session speaks about the perilous nature of it and though the batting order won’t be tested to that level of alarm in Division Two, still it is best to rectify a fatal damage point.
Rhodes has already spoken about bringing in another seamer to limit the workload on Leach, Shantry and Charles Morris. They would be well-served to keep the services of Gabriel too. The bouncy and seaming wickets at New Road in the latter part of the season was justified to good effect. Those wickets brought favourable results more often than not so that’s a ploy they could work on by strengthening the fast bowling department further.
Tweet of the Season
Great to see @joeclarke10 & @RossWhiteley44 selected for the Lions!!! Awesome for the club. @WorcsCCC
— Moeen Ali (@MoeenAli) September 16, 2015
Although the wave of optimism generated at New Road by the convergence of seriously talented young cricketers, it can’t be looked past that the main goal of the season, avoiding relegation, could not be achieved. They were consistent in the Natwest T20 Blast only to fall at that dreaded quarter-final hurdle again but were terribly out of depth in the Royal London One-Day Cup.
The future looks bright and that may even include seeing some colts in English colours sooner than you think. The reassuring factor about the club is that there’s the family feel from within that bypasses the fear that greener pastures could see these talent go away. This has been demonstrated by the vast number of players who have committed their futures to the club. This season will go down as a missed opportunity that could have been avoided in some ways but it still has the potential for a brighter future. 5/10