The different colour balls, or being in Division One, not Division Two of the County Championship this year made Worcestershire fare rather contrarily between different formats. A maiden T20 Blast title came as just reward following their consistent high-end performances in the shorter formats over the past couple of years.
There was another strong showing in the Royal London One-Day Cup in which only a rampant Heino Kuhn could only stop the Pears from reaching a Lords final. Relegation from Division One, the one rather large dampener on an otherwise near-perfect season.
2018 marked the first season since 2005 without Steve Rhodes at the helm for Worcestershire and their initial fortunes were uncertain. The Championship campaign got off to an expected shaky start as it took them until the sixth round to pick up their first win, it came over Lancashire who were also relegated.
Only one more win would follow – a memorable one at that, an innings victory at Scarborough – in what was a dismal red-ball campaign. Ten losses from 14 matches, including five in a row to end the campaign, was always going to result in relegation.
Silverware is rarely tasted by the smaller counties these days and the enormity of Worcestershire’s achievement must be celebrated. Many would have tipped Worcestershire to win the RLODC before the Blast as they have topped the North Group for two seasons in a row. But a first trip to Finals Day brought their hunger for success into fruition.
SSCC: 8th, Division One
T20 Blast: Winners – 1st, North Group
RLODC: Semi-Finalists – 1st, North Group
SSCC: Mitchell, 957
T20 Blast: Clarke, 396
RLODC: Cox, 396
SSCC: Barnard, 49
T20 Blast: Brown, 31
RLODC: Barnard, 16
Player of the Season:
Ben Cox probably had the best individual Finals Day in the competition’s 15-year history and Pat Brown collected one of the most impressive wicket hauls in the history of the T20 Blast. But Ed Barnard is Worcestershire’s player of the season. A canny all-rounder in all formats, Barnard will become an exceptional county cricketer.
His contribution to Worcestershire is one that cannot be measured purely in numbers – although 49 Championship wickets at an average of 23.22 is a pretty good measurement. On many occasions he has won games for Worcestershire with what seem like small contributions on the scorecard, but are examples of extreme maturity and assurance under pressure from a 22-year-old.
Only Alfonso Thomas has more wickets in a T20 Blast campaign than Pat Brown. Thomas, with 33 wickets during the 2010 T20 Blast, was a seasoned pro at 33-years-old having played in different T20 franchises around the world. Brown, at just 20-years-old, took 31 wickets in a remarkable campaign in which he announced himself as a future international on Finals Day. Brown used all his skill and guile to bamboozle both the Lancashire and Sussex batsman as he collected impressive figures of 4-0-21-4 and 4-0-15-0 respectively. It is hard to recall a young fast bowler impressing so much in the game’s shortest format.
Could have done better:
It is hard to single out a single player for this category. The teams’ only failings came in Championship cricket where the blame would have been rightly shared out across the team, the batsman being in focus. Tom Fell was earmarked as one of the most promising young batsmen a couple of years ago and despite making an extraordinary comeback from testicular cancer, the 24-year-old would’ve liked more than 627 Championship runs at an average of 27.16.
Need to work on:
After a near-faultless white-ball campaign, the only real improvements can be made in red-ball cricket. Worcestershire will need to strengthen their batting if they are to gain promotion and the departure of stand-out batsman Joe Clarke will only make it more difficult.
More of the same! Worcestershire will not want to rest on their laurels and give up their status as T20 Blast Champions. Rikki Wessels is a canny signing to slightly fill the hole left by Joe Clarke. Wessels will be able to keep up the good work made in white-ball cricket while adding some much-needed experience in the longer form.
Relegation won’t be all doom and gloom for those at New Road. Many expected Worcestershire to be relegated, and they were. The real consequences might well be felt if they fail to regain promotion next year, when three promotion places are up for grabs. The contrasting possibility is that given their white-ball success, perhaps Worcestershire may consider putting red-ball cricket on the back seat for now, given how difficult it is for smaller counties to succeed in the format.
Red-ball cricket is still the pinnacle of the county game, but it is not so unimaginable that some smaller counties may go down that route.