County Preview: Worcestershire

I had very mixed emotions at the end of the 2018 season. Winning the T20 Blast for the very first time was absolutely superb. It brought back memories of our glory days in the 1980s when trophies flowed like wine at a wedding.

But our subsequent relegation to division two, and Joe Clarke’s decision to jump ship at the first opportunity – it was the first time his contract was up since becoming established in the first team – were two very bitter pills to swallow. And all this while the Alex Hepburn saga rumbled on in the background.

Fortunately, however, Worcestershire have learned to cope with losing their best players over the years. We’ve seen plenty leave – from the two Steve’s, Moore and Davies, to the likes of Kabir Ali and Gareth Batty – but the club goes on. Of course, it helps when you’re so good at developing young players. I suspect it won’t be long before we unearth the next Joe Clarke and Tom Kohler Cadmore. No matter how good they are, they’re always replaceable in the end.

Fortunately, the current squad already includes quite a few promising young players. None of them are likely to become the new Graeme Hick, but they might well be good enough to become the new Vikram Solanki or Moeen Ali. And that will do very nicely thank you very much.

The batting

The first player who shows a lot of promise is Brett D’Oliveira, the grandson of the late Basil, and the son of the late Damien, who was a stalwart of those great 1980s teams. Damien was taken from us far too soon, and it will be incredibly sweet if Brett goes on to great things. He’s already played for the England Lions, although I personally thought it might be too soon for him.

Another player who has faced adversity and come through it is young Tom Fell. An orthodox and somewhat old school batsman, Fell overcame a huge cancer scare a couple of years back but is thankfully playing regularly again. He opened the batting with the admirable Daryl Mitchell in the first game at Leicestershire, and I sense this could become one of the most productive opening partnerships in the division.

With Riki Wessels joining from Notts, and New Zealand’s Hamish Rutherford filling in as overseas player until the excellent Callum Ferguson arrives from down under, runs shouldn’t be too much of a problem this season. I doubt we’ll be prolific but we should put enough runs on the board to give our excellent bowling attack a good chance of taking 20 wickets – especially on the rare occasions when Moeen is available.

The bowling

And that, ladies and gentleman, is why I’ll be heading to to back Worcestershire for promotion. Our seam bowling attack is extremely useful. There’s strength in depth and a magnificent blend of youth and experience. To be honest I don’t know which combination they’ll pick if everyone is fit. There are so many good options to choose from.

The natural place to start is probably former South Africa left-arm quick Wayne Parnell, who now qualifies as a kolpak. The captain Joe Leach, whose nasty injury last year was a big blow, and the ever-improving Ed Barnard are also incredibly productive county bowlers. The latter might well receive an international white ball call up sooner rather than later. He’s a very intelligent cricketer capable of winning games with both bat and ball.

But the talent doesn’t end there. There’s Josh Tongue, who is one of the top fast bowling prospects in the country – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s playing test cricket a year or two from now – plus Pat Brown, who became the story of last year’s T20 title winning team. Brown is basically just a kid but he’s as cool as John McClane under pressure and has a box of tricks David Blaine would envy.

And then there’s young Dillon Pennington, a 20 year old who broke into the side last summer. Pennington has played for England U19 and is a fantastic talent. He’s a bit younger than Tongue but again I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays for England in the coming years. Morne Morkel said he was “blown away” by Pennington after playing against him for Surrey last year. He also impressed Kane Williamson in the county’s game against Yorkshire. Indeed, he gave the New Zealand skipper a real examination.

I should also mention Charlie Morris, who took 7-45 in the Worcestershire innings victory against Leicestershire at the weekend. A couple of years ago Morris looked like he might emerge as one of the most consistent seamers on the circuit. He’s lost his way a bit since then but perhaps it’s all starting to come good again?

As a purist I’d also like to mention our keeper Ben Cox. If Ben Foakes is the best pure keeper in the country then Cox isn’t far behind him at all. In fact, a few good judges have argued that Cox is just as good if not better as a gloveman. He’s also a very dangerous white ball batsman, as our T20 Blast campaign last year proved.

Dead certs or online casino punt?

At this point you’re probably thinking Worcestershire are either dead certs for promotion or I’m completely and utterly biased. Although the latter is undoubtedly true, the former might only be a slight exaggeration. Confidence is high at New Road, there’s a good team spirit, and this young team is learning how to win trophies. I really expect us to compete on all fronts.

Whatever happens, however, I’ll always be extremely proud of my county. We’re a small club that punches above its weight fantastically well. Our budget is small, we constantly lose our best players, and our ground gets severely flooded most years. Yet we still manage to upset the bigger teams with regularity.

Yes we might be a bit like the city’s rugby team Worcester Warriors – underdogs too good for the second tier but not quite capable (yet!) of competing at the top end of the top table – but there’s a certain dignity in that.

What’s more, although I’m not a huge fan of all the developments that have sprung up at New Road over the last decade or so, we still have one of the most (if not the most) beautiful grounds in the country. In fact, I can’t think of many prettier cricket grounds in the world.

James Morgan

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  • So, just a month without f/c cricket now?

    Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Worcestershire in the current promotion places. It would be bloody hilarious if that was still the case at the end of the season! Even better if Somerset win D1 and Warwickshire are relegated!!

    Not that there’s any agenda to get all Test ground teams into D1 or anything….

  • 3 up, 1 down. Mmm…ECB step in creating one division and getting Reid of a few counties. Easier to fit in the 100.

    Down? No idea yet. Up? Likely Worcester ( hope so nice ground to go to), Lancs and Middx/Sussex.

  • Missed this one. I feel good about Worcester this year. We have a decent squad and have hired some good overseas help.
    I hope that some guys, like D’Oliveira and Fell, will show what they can really do. It’s not all plain sailing (when is it ever) as Twowig is out for the season and Joe is not yet fully received. Any sightings of Mo at NR will be rare indeed.
    But I expect success.

    • Agreed. I think that Twohig is a significant blow because spin bowling is possibly Worcs’ achilles heel. Dolly will have to do more bowling. We’ll be fine when Moeen is around, but as you say that won’t be very often :-(


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