April 8, 2013

County Championship, Division Two

Rebuilding on and off the pitch

Craig Nicholson
Worcestershire's young squad will continue their development in Division Two  © Getty Images
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Even the most optimistic Worcestershire supporter would admit that a season of rebuilding lies ahead - both on and off the field. Too good for Division Two but not good enough to test the real big boys; yo-yoing remains an all too familiar pastime at New Road. A miraculous escape from the trap door in 2011 was false promise and a desperate 2012 saw the Pears implode and prove everyone right by finishing rock bottom of Division One. A rare appearance in the T20 quarter-finals was a minor highlight in an otherwise forgettable summer.

A first season in 18 years without the elegant Vikram Solanki holding together the middle-order means the talented Moeen Ali and Alexei Kervezee must finally realise their obvious potential. At 25 and 23 respectively, they can't cling to their 'promising youngsters' tags much longer. That said, Moeen proved his worth with the ball more often than with the bat last summer.

Daryl Mitchell is an impressive, home-grown captain and proof that hard work and mental strength are just as valuable as natural talent in carving out a county career. He will miss his opening partner from last season - the run machine that was Phil Hughes. Although, in truth even he wilted under the burden of carrying his team-mates in late summer as relegation became inevitable. His return to the Australia Test side was well deserved and much celebrated in these parts but left us with a huge hole to fill. Whether the hugely experienced Sri Lankan Thilan Samaraweera can do so, while improving his moderate record in England, remains to be seen.

Dual passport holder Michael Johnson is something of an unknown quantity. He will compete for the gloves with 20-year-old Ben Cox after the release and subsequent retirement of the popular Ben Scott.

The bowling department will again be led by the brilliant Alan Richardson, who turns 38 in May. With 189 first-class wickets in three memorable seasons, he made a mockery of those who scoffed at signing the 'journeyman' in the first place. Whether he will have some support this summer remains to be seen. Gareth Andrew is a talented allrounder and he should lead the way provided he has an injury-free summer. Richard Jones came on leaps and bounds last summer, while the signing of RAF Corporal Graeme Cessford has left a few people looking skywards. Jack Shantry is as unpredictable as his action while Brett D'Oliveira continues to show the promise his name suggests. If only Saeed Ajmal was still here to help nurture the young leggy.

While in Division One the consensus was that survival was the main priority, with any one-day success a welcome but unexpected bonus. This summer, keeping our heads above water (sadly both metaphorically and literally) is our only wish. The club has done remarkably well to make a profit as we still count the cost of the disastrous 2008 flood. The off-field rebuilding comes in the shape of a 120-room Premier Inn. As well as providing much-needed income, it will vastly improve the aesthetics of the tired-looking New Road side of the ground.

A return to Division Two will remove us from the spotlight somewhat and hopefully give this young side the chance to build its confidence against lesser opposition. It will be interesting to see whether the clear gulf between the two divisions has closed up since we were last in the bottom tier. With the T20 bubble bursting excruciatingly slowly each summer, Championship cricket remains the true test of where a side is. That said, a one-day final would be nice!

Likely Championship side
Mitchell (capt)
Pardoe
Samaraweera
Ali
Kervezee
Pinner
Johnson (wk)
Kapil/D'Oliveira
Andrew
Jones
Richardson

What I love: The most beautiful ground in cricket, Dean's ice creams, Steve "Bumpy" Rhodes - a Pear through and through - in charge and a young team with nothing to lose.

What I'd change: The Graeme Hick Pavilion is on stilts to protect it against flooding - we just need the rest of the ground to rise a few dozen feet now!

Craig Nicholson describes himself as a cricket writer masquerading as a magazine sub-editor. Guilty of excessive hashtagging on Twitter here

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Craig Nicholson
Craig Nicholson describes himself as a cricket writer masquerading as a magazine sub-editor. After spending five years exiled and educated in Yorkshire, he returned to his roots in rural Worcestershire. He was brought up on a diet of Glenn McGrath and Graeme Hick, successive Lord's finals (okay, we lost them both) and the most beauteous setting in world cricket. These days he is just happy if he can get through a summer without the ground flooding. @CraigSWFC

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