With the floods that once again plagued New Road subsiding, Worcestershire are set to get their Division Two campaign underway when they host Kent on Sunday.
The Pears, labelled as a yo-yo side over the last decade, will be hoping their string stays loose in a bid to get back to the upper echelon at the first attempt.
Steve Rhodes’ side finished bottom of Division One last term, and with just one team earning promotion this year, they’ll need to start strongly if they’re to return.
But it’s six years since Worcestershire won their opening game, with Daryl Mitchell and Richard Jones overcoming Andrew Strauss’ Middlesex back at New Road.
Kent are the visitors on this occasion, who themselves suffered defeat on their opening day last term, succumbing by five wickets in a low-scorer at Essex last April.
The Spitfires come into this season full of hope and a focus on their four-day game, with Darren Stevens calling for consistency from his side.
“We’ve been pretty slack in the Championship over the past four or five years, and we’ve spoken about that in depth and how we’re keen to get a good start in that,” he said.
“I think we’ve got the talent to get promoted this season, the youngsters are another year older and have played enough cricket to know their own games, so hopefully we can challenge for the first division. It’s probably going to be the hardest year since the Championship went two-divisional with only one team going up.
“Normally, you would be able to go up with eight wins, but that might not be enough this year.”
With Worcestershire’s Division Two absence last term, you have to go back to 2014 for their last New Road meeting with Kent, with Gareth Andrew’s eight match wickets integral in a 125-run win for the home side.
With a famous cricket name behind him, Brett D’Oliveira became the third member of his family to hit a first-class century in the side’s pre-season friendly with Oxford MCCU this week.
Having not reached a 50 before that game, it marks a significant landmark for D’Oliveira, who will be looking for that breakthrough year with the bat. The 24-year-old also possesses a handy knack of taking wickets, notching a maiden five-wicket haul against Durham last term.
Kent officially have a new captain this term in Sam Northeast, although he did take the mantle for some parts of the 2015 campaign.
And the promotion seems to be doing him good: Northeast has hit more than 50 in each of his last five first-class innings, culminating in a brilliant 139 against Lancashire back in September.
Despite his impressive form, Northeast has a poor record against Worcestershire, with his 22.16 average a figure he’ll certainly be after improving.
Worcestershire squad: TBA
Joe Denly has fully recovered from a side strain and has received the nod while captain Sam Northeast will have quite the range of seam bowlers to pick from: Calum Haggett, Matt Coles, Mitch Claydon, Ivan Thomas and Hugh Bernard to list five.
Wicketkeeper Adam Rouse is set to make his Specsavers County Championship debut behind the stumps. Tom Latham has not yet made the trip over from his native New Zealand.
Kent squad: Sam Northeast (captain), Daniel Bell-Drummond, Joe Denly, Sean Dickson, Darren Stevens, Alex Blake, Adam Rouse (wicket-keeper), Calum Haggett, Matt Coles, Mitchell Claydon, Adam Riley, Ivan Thomas, Hugh Bernard
Weather and Conditions
The worst apart about the current weather forecast for this year’s opening County Championship fixtures is the possibility of a change at just the wrong moment. Sunday through to Tuesday tea look to be dry and bright – if chilly – with the clouds gathering for the final session of Tuesday and possibly staying that way until Wednesday.
Date: 10th – 13th April 2016
Ground: New Road County Ground, Worcester
Umpires: Ian Gould & Richard Illingworth
Odds (via SkyBet): Worcestershire 4/6, Kent 11/10