“I want to support Felly (Tom Fell) who is a house mate and a good friend of mine. He is probably going to lose his hair and I thought it was nice for me to support him by not having any hair (this season)”-Tom Kohler-Cadmore.
Not only will the Pears be without their assured run-getter Fell, the 22 year old also reached the golden 1000 run mark last year when others around him found it harder to entertain the demands of Division One but his misfortune is also vividly encompassing the club. Cadmore has sentenced himself to a bald head for the forthcoming season to support his friend who is suffering from testicular cancer. The good news is that provided everything goes right, Fell could be playing for the Pears by the start of July.
One of the major challenges the Pears face in his absence as well as the retirement of Alex Gidman who is a proven source of runs in Division Two, is originating the runs that their bowlers can bowl at. Joe Clarke is promise personified while the youth core of Ben Cox, Cadmore and the experienced Daryl Mitchell will have to shoulder the baggage. The Pears’ bowling attack proved they have more than one string to their bow by being potent against Division One line-ups even while carrying the ineffective Saeed Ajmal last year. The additions of Matt Henry and Kyle Abbott are only going to strengthen the attack.
One glaring Achilles heel could be the lack of a front line spinner with England regular Moeen Ali presumably only able to put in occasional appearances for his club.
Worcestershire clearly weren’t pushovers last year but some disastrous isolated sessions cost them enough matches in the final analysis to go down. With some luck and brains they could have easily stayed up, Director of Cricket Steve Rhodes will hope those scars are turned into vengeance this year.
The Rapids’ Natwest T20 Blast run culminated in a first ever home quarter final but a well-documented scheduling farce prevented them from a fair crack at qualifying. They were woeful in the Royal London Cup deteriorating as it went along so much so that they conspired to lose after having Northants 19-6 in one of the home matches.
Rhodes has tied down most of his young stars to long term contracts and that forecasts a steady plan in which the players are feeling at home. The assurances, by way of chances given to the developing younger talent, have been repaid and the experience gained in the unchartered waters of Division One could propel them to another push towards that again.
Ins: Kyle Abbott (South Africa), Matt Henry (New Zealand), Mitchell Santner (New Zealand)
Outs: Gareth Andrew (released), Shaaiq Choudhry (released), Alex Gidman (retired)
Joe Leach: Leach’s star was made last year when he stormed into the limelight with incredible performances in the first half of the season. From being a tidy bowler who could bat a bit a year before, his metamorphosis to a genuine all-rounder was such that he was touted as a potential future England player. He scored 498 runs and scalped 59 wickets in the Championship while picking up 17 and seven wickets respectively in the Natwest T20 Blast and Royal London Cup.
He was also the orchestrator of a memorable hat-trick against Northants and alongside Jack Shantry and Charlie Morris formed a dynamic seam attack. Leach, 25, should continue his rich vein of form and he has the added the cushion of contributions in both disciplines to the team’s cause. Rhodes described Leach’s season as much of a pleasant surprise as a coming of age and he would be pivotal to Worcestershire’s chances of yo-yoing back to Division One.
Player to Watch
Joe Clarke: Having scored 530 Championship runs last year, it’s a testament to Clarke’s ability that he’s been touted as the lynchpin of the Pears’ batting line-up and a future England mainstay. Not to weight him up with extraneous expectation, but watching him bat in his technically compact grove was almost as tasty as the cakes at New Road. Still 19 and having won the vote of Worcestershire Director of Cricket Steve Rhodes as the best player to emerge from the academy in a long while, Clarke represented England Lions last year to go along with the under-19 world cup in 2014.
Clarke also was the lone fighter for the Pears in last year’s Royal London Cup – 242 runs at an average of 80.67- and if his 119 against Oxford MCCU last week is any indication, he has already set high standards for the new season.
Securing Mitchell Santner, arguably the hottest tweaker going around in the recently concluded world of T20, has to be the greatest coup of Rhodes this season. He is set to play in the Natwest T20 Blast for the Rapids, and spin being a handicap in Worcestershire’s attack after they opted out of signing out-of-sorts Saeed Ajmal, Santner could play a huge role.
During last year one of the things that stood out was the lack of a real tearaway quick bowler in Worcestershire’s ranks to complement the talents of Leach, Morris and Shantry. There’s a good case that had they moved to rectify that void earlier, they could have stayed up. Shannon Gabriel, who was signed for the final few games made an instant liking to the conditions of New Road. This year’s signings of Matt Henry (until the end of June) and Kyle Abbott (from there after) could enjoy the offerings in the same way as Gabriel did. Perhaps more importantly, the county has identified their summer plan of destruction.
How they’ll fare
Fell’s unavailability certainly creates a hole in their batting attack but the strength in depth in the bowling ranks can be the catalyst for a firm push back to the bright lights of Division One. Seamer friendly conditions at New Road have seen visiting teams struggle and if they are to notch up the victories required for promotion, this has to be exploited. A decent punt can be taken on the Pears going up again but it will all depend on the likes of Clarke, Cadmore and Cox racking up scores which the bowling attack can reap on.
The Pears have never gotten to grips with the demands of the Royal London One Day Cup and it almost feels like that’s the least looked after trophy in their agenda. An exit in the group stages is highly likely but with Santner lengthening his CV at the ICC World T20, there is the tantalising possibility of the Rapids finally entering that up-to-now-elusive Finals Day in the Natwest T20 Blast.
Opening Fixture: v Kent, Sunday 10th April at New Road
Specsavers County Championship Division Two: 4/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 33/1
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: 25/1