Continuing our series of county previews, here is an assessment of Worcestershire's chances in 2008.
2007 in a Nutshell:
Again, like normal, 2007 was a mixed season for Worcestershire! Relegated from the First Division in the County Championship, finished champions in the Pro40 Division One, had another disappointing T20 effort and made a fairly poor attempt in the Friends Provident Trophy, would be how the season went in terms of cricket played.
Batting – Graeme Hick, again – 963 runs at an average above his age – 42 - (only just!)
Bowling – Kabir Ali – over 50 wickets at 22 – standout bowler once again
Batting – Graeme Hick – an average of over 70, what more can be said!
Bowling – Kabir – an average of 19 – brilliant.
Phil Jaques – only 500 first class runs from the overseas “star”
Gareth Batty – only 8 one day wickets at 55. Awful.
Mitchell, Moore, Solanki*, Smith, Hick, Davies+, Batty, Kabir, S. Jones, Magoffin/Edwards, Mason
One Day Games
Davies+, Solanki*, Moeen, Smith, Hick, Mitchell, Batty, Kabir, S. Jones, Magoffin/Edwards, Mason
Openers: Mitchell and Moore formed a pretty decent partnership towards the end of last season, they will look to consolidate this early on in the season. With no real openers in back up, attention could turn to Solanki or perhaps the promising Moeen Ali to step up should Mitchell or Moore look out of touch early on.
Middle Order: As has been the case at Worcestershire for the last 20 years, Graeme Hick is key here. Although he has moved down from 3 to 5, he still nearly topped 1000 runs last year and will be looking to do that this year, as many think this could be his last. Ben Smith is not getting any younger either and with players such as Moeen Ali and the young Dutchman, Alexei Kervezee, waiting in the wings, the pressure will be on early doors.
Wicketkeeper: There is no doubt here – Steven Davies. Although he didn’t enjoy too profitable a year with the bat – just 690 runs at exactly 30 and with no centuries, Davies will be looking to shake that off and put himself back into England contention. He is, however, an almost faultless wicketkeeper – responsible for 47 dismissals last season – a good effort from a keeper in a team who often failed to bowl the opposition out twice. Backup will come from Josh Knappett – an Oxbridge graduate who has impressed in the second team.
Fast Bowlers: This is where we really struggled last year and Kabir would have often been seen bowling 20 odd over’s in a row. However, this year we hopefully have a bit more depth than in previous seasons. The overseas combination of Magoffin and Fidel Edwards will be interesting – and could work out really well with Magoffin bowling on green tops early on in the season and Edwards bowling on the harder, bouncier tracks later on. Simon Jones is an incredible acquisition and with a full pre season behind him looks fit and ready to go – maybe a stab at the Ashes in 2009? Matt Mason is also hopefully fit again, after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury. He will probably start the season in the team, but will face competition from youngsters Richard Jones, Gareth Andrew and Chris Whelan.
Spinners: Gareth Batty was the main spinner last season and with the departure of Ray Price, looks as though he will be again. He was ineffective in one dayers, but economical and probing in the championship and will thrive playing on second division pitches – most notably going back to the spinner’s paradise at Northampton! His poor performance in one dayers last year may mean that one of the younger spinners – David Wheeldon, or Moeen Ali - will get a chance to shine in the shorter version of the game.
Key Man: Difficult to say. It would be easy to say Graeme Hick, as although he is going to be 42 this season, when he scores runs, we tend to win matches. However I am going to go for Kabir Ali. Over 50 wickets in the championship last year, he has developed into a very mature bowler as well as a very, very useful lower order batsman. He is key to the bowling attack and to get promoted we will need to win a lot of matches – and to do that we need to bowl teams out twice – something we cannot do without the male model on top form. Do not be surprised if he “does a Sidebottom” in the next couple of years.
Rising Star: Last year this would have gone to Steven Davies, or maybe Darryl Mitchell, however, both of these are now pretty much cemented in the team. For this reason I am going to go for Moeen Ali. He got a fair crack of the whip towards the end of last year and if one of the top 4 or 5 start badly this time around, he will be chomping at the bit to get in. Also look out for young Dutchman, “the new Graeme Hick”, Alexei Kervezee.
Captain and Coach: Steve ‘Bumpy’ Rhodes and Vikram Solanki. Bumpy’s first season was a tumultuous one – as if replacing the legendary Tom Moody needed to get any harder he then had to face the prospect of playing every match away from New Road for the last 1/3 of the season. Interesting to see how he develops, however his iconic status at New Road will ensure he gets time. Vikkers, now entering his 3rd season as captain, has flourished in the role and, assured of his place in the team for both forms of the game, will be looking to lead his team to at least one trophy this year and himself to 1000 runs for only the 3rd time.
2008 Prospects: Again, I would say that our best chance is in the championship as our team looks set up for that and promotion back to the top tier has to be the priority. Lack of investment in real "stars" means the T20 is out of the window and the other limited over’s competitions are of little real importance anyway. If our key players – Solanki, Hick, Kabir and Simon Jones – all play well, then we will walk the second division and maybe even get to a Lord's Final.
Championship (Div 2) - 2nd
Pro40 (Div 1) - 4th
T20 - Group Stage
Friends Provident - Group Stage
We are still looking for Warwickshire and Lancashire previews to complete a full set (the other 16 counties' previews are already on the site). If you fancy giving them a go, do email firstname.lastname@example.org :it would be much appreciated!