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Green shoots promise much for Worcestershire

Joe Leach roars out in celebration Getty Images

Head coach: Steve Rhodes

Captain: Daryl Mitchell

Last season

Specsavers Championship: 9th in Div 1; NatWest Blast: Quarter-finals; Royal London Cup: 8th in Group A

In:

Out: Gareth Andrew, Shaaiq Choudhry (both released), Alex Gidman (retired), Richard Oliver (declined new contract)

Overseas: Matt Henry (Apr-June), Kyle Abbott (Jul-Sep), Mitchell Santner (T20)

2015 in a nutshell

Encouraging. While no season that includes relegation can be considered a resounding success, Worcestershire's Division One campaign was admirable in many ways. By some distance the smallest club (in financial terms) in the top division, they challenged throughout and eventually only fell short of survival by 13 points. Equally encouraging was the emergence of a group of young players - nearly all homegrown and secured on long-term contracts - that promised better times ahead. The seam attack, relentless for much of the season, eventually tired due to over-bowling and the lack of support given by their ineffective overseas spinners. A good T20 campaign was overshadowed by a somewhat farcical quarter-final where the club paid the price - or arguable failed to pay the price - for not hiring floodlights and saw what could have been a showcase event end amid gloom and regret.

2016 prospects

Winning promotion this year -with just one team going up - is likely to prove tough. There is real talent in the squad, but a lack of depth and experience - the captain is the only 30-year-old on the staff following the injury-induced departures of Gidman and Andrew - could inhibit a sustained challenge. The choice of overseas players should help the over-worked seam attack, but a lack of spin options is a potential weakness in all formats. Such is the ability of the young batsmen - and the positive effects of a dressing room united by shared values and culture - that a promotion push can't be ruled out, and cricket supporters far beyond Worcestershire will be hoping for the speedy return of Tom Fell. A great deal is asked of Brett D'Oliveira as opening batsman and spinner.

Key player

A natural leader in a young side, only five men claimed more wickets than thickset and bustling Joe Leach (who took 59) in the Championship last year and he also added almost 500 runs with the bat. As a key allrounder, vice-captain and calm head on young, broad shoulders, he will relish the fact that much is required of him.

Bright young thing

The 19-year-old Joe Clarke is an unusually talented player with a very bright future. Fast-tracked into the Lions squad over the winter - he was the first teenage batsman to win selection for the A team since Ian Bell - he has so far impressed as an aggressive batsman. But he has aspirations as a wicketkeeper and knows that taking the gloves increases his chances of a future with England. At some stage, Worcestershire may face a tricky decision, with the greatly improved Ben Cox currently much the better keeper and a more than decent batsman.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

There is well-justified excitement at New Road at the emergence of an exciting group of young players. Supporters may have to be patient for another season or two, though, as those players develop and the club struggles to compete with rivals with far deeper pockets. On and off the pitch, though, the future looks brighter than it has for some time.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 2: 9/2; NatWest Blast 25/1; Royal London Cup 33/1