June 10, 2013

Richardson heroics buoy mood

The batting remains a concern and promotion looks unlikely but there have been a few recent bright spots for Worcestershire fans

I came dangerously close to penning a blog full of optimism following the nail-biting nine-run win against Warwickshire in the never-ending YB40. It was one of those rare days at New Road where the sun shone, the stands were full and our noisy neighbours were sent home with their tail between their legs.

Defeat inside three days at Northampton, however, has tempered that joy somewhat, after a much-improved month. It was a timely reminder that we are not genuine promotion contenders, nor should we focus all our energies on an immediate return to Division One. We could learn a lot from Northamptonshire. Ashley Lambell outlined in his recent blog the impact that overseas signing Trent Copeland has had and they have put together an excellent unit that will surely return to Division One after nearly a decade away. It wasn't so long ago that Northants were suffering an identity crisis of their own, with a side overflowing with Kolpaks, but they have rebuilt impressively.

My overarching concerns about this Worcestershire side remain. We are still far too reliant on senior players performing time after time to drag us through games - thankfully those stand-out individual performances have come thick and fast recently. I can't have been alone in wondering whether Alan Richardson's powers were on the wane having managed just six wickets in the opening four Championship games. Four games later only former Pear Steve Magoffin has more first-class wickets than the 39-year-old.

Richardson's achievements since joining Worcestershire for the 2010 season are nothing short of extraordinary but career best match figures of 12 for 63 in a two-day victory over Kent was surely once-in-a-lifetime stuff? Well no, because just six days later he manufactured another personal best, with 8 for 37 in the first innings against Gloucestershire.

Such stats, of course, don't allay fears that the bowling attack is being carried by the genial Richardson. Chris Russell and Richard Jones have both shown glimpses of their obvious ability but an even clearer inconsistency stifles their development. ESPNcricinfo columnist Jack Shantry on the other hand has thrived, having taken on extra responsibility in red-ball cricket. He has already played more Championship games than he did last season and his brilliant 7 for 69 in the rain-ruined draw against Essex emphasised that, in the right conditions, he can do much more than simply hold up an end.

The batting continues to excite yet frustrate in equal measure. In Daryl Mitchell, Moeen Ali and Thilan Samaraweera, Worcestershire have three batsmen who would get into most Division Two top-orders and possibly even some in the top flight. They each have a Championship century this season and each has a healthy average - yet team totals of 196 and 125 all out in the thumping at Wantage Road illustrate that they can't do it on their own. The tenacious Matt Pardoe has improved this season and he could thrive once he shakes off the millstone around his neck - namely the lack of a maiden first-class ton. Neil Pinner meanwhile seems to be making up the numbers until the promising Aneesh Kapil is deemed ready for a long run in the four-day side.

The big batting frustration that remains is Alexei Kervezee, who seems to lack the requisite nous to build an innings despite his abundant talent. Comparisons with Graeme Hick when he was a teenager didn't help but he scored 1200 runs the last time Worcestershire were in the second tier. So far this summer he has a paltry 137 runs in 11 Championship innings with a high score of 35.

With silly season fast approaching and YB40 progress extremely unlikely, midsummer could be dull unless we repeat our unexpected T20 run of last season. But even if a proper promotion push is beyond us, small improvements should ensure a comfortable mid-table finish in the Championship. Glamorgan's visit to New Road next week will give an excellent indication of where we are at the halfway stage, given that they outplayed us in April.

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