The county season is nigh, but that doesn’t mean that the weather has to play ball — something Worcestershire know all too well.
Their New Road ground has been under heavy flood water in recent weeks thanks to adverse conditions and while it’s fortunate that the club have until 27th April to prepare for their first home fixture, the issue serves as a frustrating backdrop to their ceremonious return to Division One.
Division Two champions in 2017, Worcestershire would be aiming for the stars to dream of repeating Essex’s remarkable back-to-back title wins across the two tiers, but opening with a victory is a good place to start — no matter the targets.
Hampshire captain James Vince certainly isn’t underestimating them.
“No matter who you play at the start of the year you have to be on it,” Vince said.
“Especially at this time of year, anyone can beat anyone on their day or their four days so we’re definitely not taking them lightly.”
There was less success on the south coast where just two points separated Hampshire and relegation by the end of last season, and a fourth straight season battling the drop must be avoided.
The signing of Hashim Amla will assist with that, presenting a real challenge for Worcestershire who will come up against the 11th best Test batsman in the world.
But the new boys aren’t without some tricks of their own. A pair of talented Joes — Clarke and captain Leach — as well as overseas signing Travis Head will grab the headlines, but this squad have the same makeup as last year’s success.
And after their performance in Division Two, who would write them off?
Kyle Abbott hit the ground running at the start of last season with a seven-wicket-haul in the opening week at Yorkshire, and Hampshire will be hoping he does so again.
The former South Africa quick was eclipsed in the Division One wickets column only by Essex’s Jamie Porter and Simon Harmer in 2017 and the leader of this attack will be licking his lips to get stuck in.
Taking 20 wickets is the toughest challenge in the Specsavers County Championship, but Joe Leach is a major asset with the ball. The skipper led the way with 69 wickets last season, taking at least three scalps in an innings on 16 occasions.
On a surface likely to favour bowlers, he will pose a real threat — especially should he opt to bowl on the opening morning.
South African trio Hashim Amla, Kyle Abbott and Rilee Roussouw are all included in the squad, with Liam Dawson set to provide the spin option.
Hampshire squad: James Vince (c), Kyle Abbott, Jimmy Adams, Hashim Amla, Gareth Berg, Liam Dawson, Fidel Edwards, Lewis McManus (wk), Sam Northeast, Rilee Roussouw, Joe Weatherley, Brad Wheal, Chris Wood
Worcestershire squad: TBA
Weather and Conditions
The sun may be scarce but so should the rain, with ample cloud cover to provide assistance to bowlers in temperatures in the low teens. With a green-looking track at The Ageas Bowl, Hampshire may well be invited to wield the willow to start 2018.
Date: 13th-16th April 2018
Ground: The Ageas Bowl
Odds (SkyBet): Hampshire 4/6, Worcestershire 6/5