Worcestershire ended their 2020 season with plenty to think about. Whereas they exceeded many fans’ expectations by finishing second in the Central Group of the Bob Willis Trophy, their performances in the Vitality Blast were dismal in the extreme. They won only two of their 10 games and finished bottom in their group.
In the four-day campaign, Worcestershire’s battery of seam bowlers maintained constant pressure on opposing batsmen, with five of them taking more than 10 wickets. Captain Joe Leach led the way with 19. The batsmen, too, did well to build challenging totals. Jake Libby proved to be an inspired signing, scoring almost 500 runs in his debut season for the Pears. He was well supported. Five other batsmen averaged over 40.
Libby also scored well in the Blast, as did Hamish Rutherford; but the bowlers largely failed to deliver. Pat Brown, who in 2019 had taken 31 Blast wickets, was seldom fit in 2020 and captured only eight scalps at an average of over 40 and an economy rate in double figures.
With Moeen Ali in 2021 likely to be only occasionally available between IPL and England duties, Worcestershire were set on signing an overseas spinner. Keshav Maharaj looked to be the ideal choice but, at the last moment, he decided to stay in South Africa and get married. Ben Twohig was released at the end of last season so unless there is a late signing, Brett D’Oliveira will have to carry the spin burden alone in four-day cricket.
The demise of Kolpak status means that Wayne Parnell has moved to Northants as an overseas signing. It also looked likely until recently that Worcestershire would lose another key man. Highly-regarded wicket keeper Ben Cox initially turned down a new contract before having a change of mind and signing on for three more years.
Another gloveman, Gareth Roderick, has joined from Gloucestershire, though he may play mainly as a batsman. He should strengthen what is already an impressive line-up.
Reliable stalwart Daryl Mitchell will step aside from 50-over cricket this year so that he can give some time to his new role as Director of Cricket Operations at the PCA.
Ins: Gareth Roderick (Gloucestershire)
Outs: Olly Westbury, Ben Twohig (both released), Wayne Parnell (Northants)
Dillon Pennington is a highly talented medium fast bowler. This might be the season when he turns in the kind of performances that would bring him to the brink of international honours. Having already played for England at under-19 level, he has the physique and the ability to make that next step up. On the way, he should be a key member of the Worcestershire pace attack in all formats this year.
Player to watch
Jack Haynes is only 20 but has already made a positive impression as a stylish right hand batsman. It may take him a little time to force his way into the powerful Worcestershire batting line-up; but the absence of Daryl Mitchell from the 50 over team may just give him the opportunity that he needs.
Fast-medium West Indies bowler Alzarri Joseph joins for the first seven county championship matches. For the Blast, Worcestershire are the first county ever to recruit a Nepalese cricketer, leg spinner Sandeep Lamichhane. He has performed well in both the IPL and the CPL. Joining him will be Australian Ben Dwarshuis, a left arm fast-medium bowler who is very much a T20 specialist, having starred for Sydney Sixers.
How they will fare
Whether or not Worcestershire can truly challenge for four-day honours this year should become quickly apparent because they start their campaign with a match against Essex at Chelmsford. If they can come out of that contest with at least a share of the honours, they will set their sights on at least a top two finish in the group.
The Royal London One-Day Cup looks a very open competition. But for Worcestershire to do well, they will need to overcome their lack of spinning resources.
As for the Blast, the Rapids will surely be expecting to be challenging at the top of their group rather than scrambling around at the bottom. If those two new overseas players can deliver, a return to Finals Day could beckon.
8-11 April v Essex at Chelmsford
Season Odds (Skybet)
County Championship: 12/1
Bob Willis Trophy: 12/1
Vitality Blast: 14/1
Royal London One Day Cup: 14/1