May 2, 2013

What is the point of Worcs?

Craig Nicholson
Matt Pardoe flicks to leg, Hampshire v Worcestershire, County Championship, Division Two, Ageas Bowl, 3rd day, April 26, 2013
Matthew Pardoe is one of several young England-qualified players yet to find their feet at Worcestershire  © PA Photos
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You know things aren't going well when your season looks in disarray before the home fans have even witnessed a ball bowled in anger.

Worcestershire's enforced early season tour has allowed developments at New Road to continue apace. But it's the developments on the pitch that have left Pears fans searching for answers a mere three weeks into the new campaign.

A hard-fought (albeit rain-affected) draw against a much-fancied Lancashire side provided hope that an immediate return to Division One was possible. But thumping defeats in Cardiff and Southampton have provided stark evidence that a side that managed just one Championship win last season may not fare much better in the second tier.

It is still early days, of course, and the visit of Leicestershire on May 8 should remain a date to cherish by cricket fans in the county, irrespective of results to date. The overwhelming frustration amongst supporters, though, is that the clearest of problems has not been rectified during the winter - namely the need to strengthen a frighteningly thin squad. I'm willing to wait longer than three games before making judgments - three successive away games have offered little prospect of seeing the team in action, let alone an opportunity for greater analysis. My thoughts instead turn to our place in the ever-changing world of cricket.

The club's insistence on living within its means can only be commended - the stark reality is that without such financial prudence we might not have a club to support at all. But the question I can't shake from my mind is simple: is it enough to simply survive?

The truth is that Worcestershire are a small club from a small county, with no prospect of international cricket in my lifetime (and I'm only 24). Not that cricket fans in the county have to travel too far for their international fix, with Edgbaston, Trent Bridge and Sophia Gardens all within a 90-mile radius. England development sides, women's cricket and touring sides are also gratefully welcomed to New Road. But even this summer's visit of the Australians, a tradition that dates back over 100 years, can't help us compete with the burgeoning TMG counties.

So with neither the facility to host full-blown international cricket nor the finances to compete with the big boys, what is our raison d'ĂȘtre? If counties exist to develop future England talent then we should be very worried. Recently announced Champions Trophy and England Lions squads featured not one Worcestershire representative. Moeen Ali certainly has the ability to push for international honours but he still needs a summer full of runs to back up his talent. Aneesh Kapil and Ed Barnard have both represented England Under-19s in the past 12 months but they have a long way to go in their cricketing careers yet.

I think back to the exciting Worcestershire side that gracefully bludgeoned its way to victory in the 2007 Pro 40 competition. It included the likes of Steve Davies, Vikram Solanki, Graeme Hick, Gareth Batty and Kabir Ali - men who have all represented England, albeit with varying degrees of success. Compare that team with the class of 2013. Ostensibly the squad contains a raft of England-qualified players, many aged 26 or younger, certainly enough to meet the ECB's requirements for incentive payments. But doesn't this just prove that we are simply survivng, aided by handouts but doing little to justify them. How many Worcestershire players have realistic England ambitions, or at least the raw talent to challenge for international honours one day? In truth, very few.

Steve Rhodes has insisted that supporters should be patient and keep faith in the side; indeed he picked out 'seven players to watch' during the AGM. But if results continue to disappoint then concern will turn to outright dismay. Indeed some supporters have thought twice about renewing their memberships on the back of a less-than-promising start. We scoffed in unison at Mark Nicholas' assertion in 2010 that we were one of several counties who "exist for no obviously justifiable reason" and should relinquish our first-class status. If avoiding the ignominy of the wooden spoon becomes our end-of-term goal then I can only begin to wonder whether he might have had a point.

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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Posted by   on (May 4, 2013, 8:07 GMT)

Avery well written and thought provoking article. Well done Craig for airing honest views of a local supporter of our treasured Club. As I know it's not easy supporting The Club from afar having just completed a 36 year Royal Air Force career. The County Club will and should survive, but players with experience seem to be sadly lacking, to support the new lads. Surely there must be a role and or place to bring back some of the 'old guard'', instead as I read in my The Cricket Paper that Graeme has been tempted in supporting The Australian development squad. I wish the members well and I hope I can join you for a game or two. From a sunny Cambridgeshire good luck and Come on You Pears!

Posted by   on (May 4, 2013, 8:05 GMT)

@ben.p. Good point about Nicholas and his beloved Hampshire. A county who would no doubt be as "pointless" as the likes of Worcestershire and Leicestershire but for the whims of a multi millionaire. He'd do well to remember that they were nothing but a set of over achieving provincials when he played for and captained them, but then he isn't averse to re-writing history when it suits him.

Posted by njr1330 on (May 3, 2013, 18:09 GMT)

If 'The Don' were still alive, he could lecture you for hours about the point of Worcestershire...starting with both the 250's he scored there!

Posted by   on (May 3, 2013, 18:00 GMT)

The cyclical nature of club success is a good point. New Road is one of the most picturesque grounds in the world. I hope to be watching cricket there for many years to come.

Posted by DaveMorton on (May 2, 2013, 19:33 GMT)

The "point" of Worcestershire is that it is a wonderful place to watch cricket, civilised and happy, a beautiful ground steeped in history. It is the opposite of the soulless Test stadiums. They have their place, and so has Worcester.

Currently the 1st XI may not be strong, but these things are cyclical and the team will come again. Take a glance at the mural behind the D'Oliviera Stand (I think it's called), all the great players of the past. Close your eyes and watch Tom Graveney stroke one through the covers.

It is vital that the likes of Worcester and Leicester, Hove and Taunton be preserved. And that's coming from a Yorkshireman - so don't let Scarborough die, either!

Dave Morton

Posted by   on (May 2, 2013, 17:59 GMT)

If it weren't for Worcestershire how would Surrey find players to replace those that just aren't good enough, like Rikki Clarke, Chris Jordan, Tim Murtagh...?

Posted by ben.p. on (May 2, 2013, 15:33 GMT)

Fear not. I am a native and a veteran supporter of the county, my latter status blossoming when we won the original Sunday League ( John Player ) in 1971. You are obviously too young to remember how matters stood in 1983. Glenn Turner, the lynch pin of the '70s had left, as had Norman Gifford, the captain who had steered the side to the Championship in 1974. Also missing were Basil D'Oliviera and Vanburn Holder, both of whom had called it a day in 1979. Suddenly, the county had no elite batting, no genuinely penetrative quick bowling, no spinners truly conversant with their craft, no effective all-rounder and negligible international experience within their ranks. Then, in 1984, came Graeme Hick, and with him, in time, Ian Botham, Graham Dilley and others. Within a few years, Worcestershire had evolved into the strongest provincial side in the world. I've seen it all before. We'll bounce back. ( Did anyone ask Mark Nicholas the point of Hampshire when they were relegated in 2011? )

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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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