Little cause for Worcs optimism
Last year: 9th (relegated), CC Div 1; Quarter-finals, T20; 7th, CB40 Group A
2012 in a nutshell: Grim. Worcestershire were bottom of Division One in the County Championship - no team in either division lost as many games as their eight - and bottom of their CB40 group. A chronic lack of runs - no one averaged more than 35 and no one who played more than 10 games averaged more than 28 - was the overwhelming issue, though the failure of talented younger players to improve was, in its own way, just as disappointing. Players thought of as the future of the club, such as Richard Jones and Alexei Kervezee, were dropped, as were experienced pros such as Vikram Solanki and David Lucas. Solanki and wicketkeeper Ben Scott paid for their lack of runs by being released at the end of the season. Some of those brought in looked some way short of the standard required in Division One. The one redeeming feature was their progression to the quarter-final stages of the FLt20, which equalled their best performance in the format.
2013 prospects: It is hard to be optimistic. With financial constraints widening the gap between the rich counties and the poor, Worcestershire have been obliged to bring in some young and inexperienced players with plenty to prove in the professional game. Most pertinently, it is unclear who will keep wicket, with Ben Cox, 21, and Michael Johnson, 24 and signed from the Birmingham League, vying for the gloves. The batting appears thin, with much required of the overseas player, Thilan Samaraweera, and the likes of Daryl Mitchell and Moeen Ali, while Alan Richardson continues to lead the bowling attack. It does not bode well that they remain so reliant upon a seamer who will be 38 in May. Promotion appears unlikely.
But Worcestershire have surprised us before. In 2010, despite similar financial issues and the departure of several players, they bounced straight back into the top division thanks to a close-knit team spirit and some encouraging individual performances. There is some young talent at the club. The likes of Jones, Kervezee and Aneesh Kapil have all promised much at times and, if Gareth Andrew can remain fit, there is a decent first-team squad available, which could challenge any side in Division Two. There are a lot of 'ifs' and a concern remains over the lack of depth in the squad and the relative failure of talented young players to develop as they might have done in recent years. Jacob Oram looks a decent T20 signing, so long as he stays fit and complements the club's other allrounders, and Worcestershire could be dangerous in the shortest format.
Key player: Ali, as a top-order batsman in all formats and the main spin bowler, has developed into a valuable player. By his standards, however, he underachieved with the bat in 2012, averaging 26.08 in the Championship, and Worcestershire will need far more from him if they are to prosper. The fact that he is out of contract at the end of the season suggests this may well be his last at New Road.
Bright young thing: Kervezee has been around for several years now but has not, perhaps, pushed on as hoped. Now aged 23, it is time for him to kick-on. Kapil, 19, is a richly talented player, too.
Captain/coach: Knowing they cannot compete with the salaries offered elsewhere, Worcestershire have made a point of building a friendly, stable club that sticks with its senior staff. Whether that has made the club a little too cosy is moot and there is little doubt that, at many clubs, Steve Rhodes would have struggled to survive some of the setbacks of recent times. Bearing in mind the budget with which he works, however, there is much to be said for loyalty to a man utterly committed to the culture and best interests of the club. With Daryl Mitchell he forms a leadership team devoted far beyond the normal requirements of the job.
ESPNcricinfo verdict: At full strength Worcestershire have a decent team. But there is a lack of depth and it will be a surprise if they win promotion or go close to a limited-overs trophy.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo