Worcestershire gained promotion back to Division One of the LV= County Championship in 2023, finishing runners up to Durham. The New Road side also qualified for the knock-out stages of both white ball competitions before falling at the first hurdle.
Juxtaposed alongside this picture of a relatively successful team is the uncomfortable vision of a club that has lost many of its best (and mainly home produced) players. In recent times, Joe Clarke, Moeen Ali and Ed Barnard have left; and during 2023, five players have signed contracts elsewhere. Josh Tongue, Jack Haynes and Dillon Pennington are all moving to Notts. Pat Brown is joining Derbyshire and Ben Cox Leicestershire. It would seem that the East Midlands offers greener pastures than the meadows through which flows the River Severn.
The truth is that at least some of those departures might have been prevented if there had been more certainty about the leadership of the Club. It was not until July that Ashley Giles took up the post of Chief Executive, by which time it was too late to prevent the exodus.
In the County Championship. Worcestershire won five matches and lost three. They finished reasonably comfortably in the runner-up position but trailed top-of-the-table Durham by a massive 66 points. Jake Libby was the outstanding batter, with over 1,000 runs at an average well north of 50. There were plenty of other solid contributions from the likes of Brett D’Oliveira and Matthew Waite. Joe Leach was easily the top wicket taker with 48 victims, though Adam Finch and Dillon Pennington had better averages.
In the Vitality Blast, Worcestershire finished third in the North Group. Of their 14 games, they won eight, lost five and tied one. Having qualified for the quarter finals, they travelled to the Aegeas Bowl, lost the toss and, after 7.1 overs, found themselves 29-6, a low point from which there was no return. It was a sad end to what had been a good campaign. D’Oliveira, Haynes, Adam Hose and Mitchell Santner all scored well in excess of 200 runs; and Pakistan import Usama Mir took 19 wickets at only 16 runs apiece. Pat Brown claimed 24 wickets; but he conceded more than 11 runs an over.
Another third place (in Group B) came in the One Day Cup. Six games were won and two lost. Whilst the quarter final against Hampshire (yes, them again!) wasn’t quite a repeat of the Blast disaster, it was certainly a missed opportunity. Chasing a daunting 307 to win, Worcestershire seemed poised to pull off a surprise. With 23 balls to go, they needed 33 more runs with six wickets in hand – and they finished ten runs short, having lost five more wickets. Jake Libby, Richard Jones and Kashif Ali all scored over 300 runs in the competition and Josh Baker was the top wicket taker with 17.
LV= CC: Second in Division Two
Vitality Blast: Third in North Group, lost in quarter final
RLODC: Third in Group B; lost in quarter final
LV= CC: Jake Libby, 1153 runs at 57.65
Vitality Blast: Mitchell Santner, 404 runs at 33.66; Strike rate 151.31
RLODC: Jake Libby, 397 runs at 66.16;; Strike rate 97.30
LV= CC: Joe Leach, 48 at 29.45
Vitality Blast: Pat Brown, 24 at 22.41, Econ. 11.09 Callum Parkinson 17 at 23.29
RLODC: Josh Baker, 17 wickets @23.88, Econ. 5.33
Player of the season:
The choice of player of the season is not an easy one. So many players contributed across the three competitions. Matt Waite, Joe Leach and Brett D’Oliveira are all in with a shout. But it is difficult to disagree with the players themselves, who voted for Jake Libby as their player of the season. He scored 1550 runs in the season so surely deserves the accolade,
When Kashif Ali signed for Worcestershire in 2022, he became the first person to graduate from the South Asian Cricket Academy and gain a contract with a first-class county side. He scored fifties in all three competitions in 2023; but it was in the One Day Cup that he starred, averaging over 50. that represents massive progress and justifies the description of a breakthrough season. It will be interesting to see how he performs next year in the top Division of the Championship.
Could have done better
On the whole, Worcestershire have done well in recruiting players to replace those who have moved (or are moving) on. But one exception so far is Ed Pollock, who came from Warwickshire with the reputation of being an explosive match-winner with the bat. So far, it has not happened for him. In 31 innings across three competitions in 2023, he scored just one fifty and averaged well under 20. Much better will be expected next year.
Need to work on
Now that Ashley Giles is in place as Chief Executive, he and Head Coach Alan Richardson need to get the Club ready for the top flight in red ball cricket and, if possible, shed the image of Worcestershire as a development Club for players before they move on to bigger counties with better facilities.
There are obvious efforts being made to strengthen the squad. Rob Jones has joined from Lancashire, as have Tom Taylor from Northants and Ethan Brookes from Warwickshire. Making the right decisions about overseas players will be key to the Club’s ability to stay in the top flight next year and to make that extra step to white ball trophies.
Red ball promotion plus qualification for the knockout stages in the white ball contests represents a successful season. If they could have just gone one better in the Blast or the One Day Cup, it would have sealed an outstanding year. 7.5/10.