The magnitude of Worcestershire’s achievements last season were overlooked somewhat due to other matters in County cricket such as the relegation of Middlesex from Division One, Essex’s crushing Championship win and the fact that Northants missed out on promotion despite winning nine out of fourteen matches. That was the same amount as eventual champions Worcestershire.
Make no mistake about it, Worcestershire’s title win was extremely impressive given Nottinghamshire’s destructive early season form and the relentless pressure from chasing teams such as Northants and Kent.
Granted, they were able to take advantage of a slight dip in form from Notts, the probable cause being a taxing white-ball campaign. But Worcestershire, too, enjoyed white-ball success by toping the North Group of the Royal London Cup. A disappointing T20 campaign meant that all focus was applied to a title win.
It has been a pretty ugly winter for the Midlands side with long-term head coach, Steve Rhodes, leaving under somewhat of a dark cloud. The club were forced to part ways with the 53-year-old after he failed to inform the club about rape charges made against Alex Hepburn – the 21-year-old is still suspended. It is a sad way for Rhodes to depart after pouring so much into the club.
Division One survival will be Worcestershire’s main ambition this season to try and avoid another ‘yo-yo’ status. The club have never been in better shape to do so with young players such as Joe Clarke, Brett D’Oliveria, Ben Cox, Ross Whiteley, Tom Fell and Josh Tongue improving rapidly with each passing season.
Club stalwart, Daryl Mitchell will look to guide the young players in Division One, as will experienced players such as captain Joe Leach and new signing Steve Magoffin. The Pears could also see a lot more of Moeen Ali this season if Jack Leach is given a run in the England Test side, who will be a welcome addition to both the batting and bowling ranks.
Ins: Alex Milton (Youth), Steve Magoffin (Sussex), Dillon Pennington (Youth).
Worcestershire’s ranks are filled with promising youngsters but Joe Clarke is a clear standout as key player. The 25-year-old has prospered well in the past few season and this could be a breakthrough year for the top order batsman. Clarke has already won recognition with the England Lions and if he were to produce the goods in Division One, a full England bow might not be so far away.
Travis Head joins the midlands side for the majority of the season, missing only a couple of Championship matches and a t20 while representing Australia against England.
Martin Guptill joins his third County for the first eight t20 matches, while Callum Ferguson will take over for the remaining six matches.
How they’ll fare
It is an intensely competitive division this season but do not be a bit surprised if Worcestershire just manage to beat the drop. They have bags of talent and will not be hampered by England call-ups. Expect another strong showing in the Royal London Cup, potentially reaching the semi-final stage, but also a similarly poor T20 blast campaign where they will struggle to make it past the group phase.
SSCC Div One v Hampshire, Friday 13th April at Ageas Bowl.
Season Odds (Skybet)
SS County Championship – 14/1
Royal London One-Day Cup – 20/1
Vitality T20 Blast – 33/1