Last season, Worcestershire belied their reputation as the “yo-yo” team that constantly alternates between Divisions One and Two of the County Championship. In what should have been a promotion year, so badly did their four-day campaign go in 2019 that they almost achieved the indignity of their first wooden spoon since 1932.
Ninth out of the ten clubs in the second flight was a desperately poor result, which stemmed largely from a massively under performing batting line-up. Ed Barnard, Joe Leach and Charlie Morris all bowled effectively but, too often, they were undone by the lack of runs on the board.
By contrast, in white ball cricket, the Pears excelled. They almost managed to retain their T20 Blast title, narrowly falling to Essex in a last ball thriller at a packed Edgbaston on Finals Day. In the Royal London One Day Cup, they also showed their skills, winning six out of their eight group matches before losing to the eventual winners Somerset at the quarter final stage.
As for the winter, it did not begin well for Worcestershire. After only 18 months in the post, Chief Executive and ex-player Matt Rawnsley left in October “with immediate effect”, an ominous phrase that at best suggests a falling out of major proportions. He has not yet been replaced, his duties being shared between Chairman Fanos Hira and Vice Chairman Paul Pridgeon.
Then there was the flooding of the ground, which has become pretty well a winter norm at New Road. This time, it was particularly bad, the pitch being under water for 71 days. Had the 2020 season started on time, the opening match would have been moved to Kidderminster. The Chester Road ground there has now formally been signed up as the Club’s second home.
Like most counties, Worcestershire face considerable financial challenges in surviving the current crisis. A club that has debts of £4.3 million and lost £89,000 last year is not best placed to cope. The Worcestershire players, and 30 out of 45 other staff, have now been furloughed.
The positive spin on this is that the absence of a Chief Executive represents a considerable salary saving. In addition, whilst Alex Gidman is First Team Coach, Worcestershire do not have the expense, as many clubs do, of a Director of Cricket.
If cricket ever does get played in 2020, members and supporters will see the batting strengthened by Jake Libby, recruited from Notts. George Rhodes has left to join Leicestershire. New Zealander Hamish Rutherford was due to join Worcestershire for the whole season, with Australian Ashton Turner lined up to play in the T20 Blast; but what will happen with overseas players in the county game this year remains to be seen.
There can be few better sights than a cricket match at Worcester on a fine summer’s day against the backdrop of the Cathedral. Let us hope that those days in the sun will soon return.