After an underwhelming campaign in 2022, Worcestershire will be looking for improvements in all three formats this time out.
A disappointing season led to the departure of head coach Alex Gidman, with bowling coach Alan Richardson taking the step up to become new head coach. The former pears man will be joined by Kadeer Ali as his assistant.
The Pears have been bolstered by the arrivals of batman Adam Hose, who has made the short trip from Edgbaston to New Road, as well as the permanent signing of Matthew Waite from Yorkshire after a successful loan spell last summer.
Fresh from his recent international retirement, Azhar Ali will return to Worcestershire for a second consecutive year, while the Kiwi spin duo of Michael Bracewell and Mitchell Santner will join the county during the T20 Blast.
White ball skipper Moeen Ali has called time on his 15-year stay at New Road, returning to Warwickshire where he spent two years in the mid-2000’s. All-rounder Ed Barnard will follow Ali to Birmingham after seven-years with Worcestershire.
Promising seamer Josh Tongue has spent the winter in Sri Lanka with England Lions. The 25-year-old had struggled for fitness and wickets during 2022, but took 8-153 in his only competitive match in the subcontinent.
Worcestershire’s pre-season got off to a rocky start, falling to 0-3 within four overs in a two-day game against Northamptonshire. Gareth Roderick came in at number six for The Pears, scoring 59 (119) as he guided his side to 185-8. Tongue and Joe Leach took two wickets a piece before rain halted play, limiting Northamptonshire to 77-4.
A local derby with Warwickshire was on the cards following their trip to Northampton. A first XI friendly took place at Edgbaston, while the second XI faced off against The Bears at the Edgbaston Community Sports Ground.
In the first XI fixture, the hosts were restricted to 207, with Dillon Pennington the pick of the bowlers, taking 4-32 from his eight overs. Captain Brett D’Oliveira provided 72 from 93 balls as the visitors finished the match 173/5.
After his breakthrough season in 2022, it is hard to look past Jack Haynes as Worcestershire’s key man.
The 22-year-old scored his maiden first class century in 2022, going on to score two more throughout the season. He was rewarded with a seat on the plane to Sri Lanka with the England Lions, playing in three List A games and one first class match.
Haynes had a steady year for Worcestershire as he occupied the number four slot, often forging a partnership with the experienced Azhar Ali to stabilise an innings.
The right-handed batsman had a break on the national stage in the summer, making his debut for Oval Invincibles during The Hundred. The Pears will be hoping that his time spent around experienced players away from the county can be transferred to the County Championship.
One to watch.
Looking across such a young squad, there are a few names that could breakthrough this year, but none more so than Kashif Ali.
Ali signed for Worcestershire in June from the South Asian Cricket Academy (SACA), playing one red-ball and 13 white-ball games for the county.
The middle order batsman scored a half-century on his first class debut, scoring 52 from 74 balls against Derbyshire at New Road, before scoring his maiden List A century a week later, with 114 from 99 balls against Kent.
With the arrival of Waite and Hose, Ali may find game time hard to come by, but more consistent performances for the second XI may see Richardson and D’Oliveira forced into playing 25-year-old.
Overseas signings: Azhar Ali (Pakistan), Michael Bracewell (New Zealand, T20), Mitchell Santner (New Zealand, T20)
Ins: Adam Hose (Warwickshire), Matthew Waite (Yorkshire)
Outs: Moeen Ali (Warwickshire), Ed Barnard (Warwickshire), Tom Fell (Released), Josh Dell (Released), Jacques Banton (Released)
Possible County Championship Side
- J Libby
- E Pollock
- A Ali
- J Haynes
- B D’Oliveira ©
- G Roderick
- B Cox (WK)
- M Waite
- J Leach
- C Morris
- D Pennington
How will they fare: Worcestershire’s bowling attack looks as strong as ever, with a batch of tall pace bowlers ready to attack the Division Two batting line-ups.
Head coach Richardson will be hoping that the arrival of Waite can fill the void left by Barnard’s departure, while Roderick may push his way into the middle order after a strong pre-season.
Opener Ed Pollock endured a tough year in red-ball cricket in 2022, but has recently signed a new three-year deal and should open the batting with Jake Libby this week.
With the promotion of Nottinghamshire, Division Two looks to be tougher to call this season. The New Road outfit may have an outside chance of promotion to the top table of county cricket but may struggle to mount a season-long challenge.
Deep Extra Cover believe that The Pears will come fourth in the County Championship, along with a more promising white-ball campaign, although missing out on the quarter-finals in both competitions.
Opening fixture: CC vs Derbyshire, April 6th, Incora County Ground
Season Odds (SkyBet):
County Championship Division Two – 6/1
T20 Blast – 14/1
One-Day Cup – N/A