By Paul Edwards
Daryl Mitchell made his debut for Worcestershire in 2005. In his 13 seasons as a first-team cricketer he has enjoyed five promotions and suffered four relegations. Unlike some English professionals he knows his way around all 18 first-class counties.
Yet the winter currently meandering damply towards the exit door has presented Mitchell with a different type of change from that he has faced at the end of nine of his championship campaigns.
When Joe Leach’s side defeated Durham and thus clinched the Second Division title late last September, Steve Rhodes was director of cricket at New Road, Matt Mason was bowling coach and Tom Scott was chief executive.
Now Kevin Sharp has taken on the head coach’s role following Rhodes’ much-publicised departure in December, while Alan Richardson has been appointed lead bowling coach in succession to Mason, who has since taken on a similar role at Leicestershire. And on March 1, Worcestershire’s new chief executive, Matt Rawnsley, takes up his duties at a club keen to establish itself among the elite.
Even for the equable and experienced Mitchell, it has been a remarkable few months, yet also a close season in which he and his colleagues have had to get on with preparing for the challenges which begin with a visit to the Ageas Bowl on April 13.
“It’s certainly been interesting and very different to any winter I’ve experienced,” he acknowled-ged. “There’s been a lot of change, but from a player’s perspective you just go about your business. The training hasn’t changed too much. We still do our strength and conditioning work before Christmas and then the cricket comes into it a bit more in the New Year.
“It’s actually been a pretty smooth transition. Kevin’s been around a while as second-team coach and knows the lads well. His man-management and communication skills are fantastic, so it’s been pretty seamless really.
“But it would be wrong not to mention what Bumpy (Rhodes) has done for a lot of the guys in the dressing room over a long period of time. He will be missed but we are really looking forward to working under Kevin.”
“And it’s great to have Richo (Alan Richardson) back here. I was fortunate enough to skipper him and he was a captain’s dream when he was bowling. He’ll be transferring that skillset to the bowlers we have in the squad and he’s assistant coach as well, so he’ll be a big help to everyone.”
There seems little doubt Richardson will be fully employed. Worcestershire have one of the strongest cohort of seamers in the country at the moment, a claim which is underpinned not only by the 116 wickets taken by Josh Tongue and Leach last summer but also by the excellent support offered by Ed Barnard and by the variety of Jack Shantry and close-season signing Steve Magoffin.
“We have a really good mix,” agreed Mitchell. “Josh made his mark last year but it was good to see people like Pat Brown and George Scrimshaw also play a part in the different formats.”
Adam Finch and Dillon Pennington’s performances for England in the recent Under-19s World Cup offered further evidence of the continuing strength of Worcestershire’s much-envied Academy, a cricketing nursery which produced ten of the side which sealed the title in September.
“The development of the Academy started with Damian D’Oliveira,” said Mitchell. “He had a big influence on the careers of a lot of Academy graduates and then Elliott Wilson has been fantastic in that role in recent years.
“The Academy’s a credit to the club and it helps team spirit when you have a lot of players who have grown up with each other. It’s a great system to have in place and particularly so at a small club where recruitment is difficult. It’s vital to the lifeblood of the club.”
The Worcestershire cricketer who currently seems most likely to take the next step from Lions to the full England side is probably Joe Clarke, whose 920 runs in Division Two last season put him second only to Mitchell in the county’s list.
However, Mitchell’s tally included seven centuries and it’s probably that sort of consistency that the 21-year-old batsman needs to emulate if he is to work his way into Joe Root’s side. “Joe’s done remarkably well,” said Mitchell. “He took to first-team cricket like a duck to water and this year will be an opportunity for him to press his claims even more.
“Joe’s scored a lot of hundreds for his age and he’s averaging somewhere around the 43 mark but if he can average around 50 and churns out five or six hundreds, then he’ll force his way into the reckoning.”
The attention of Mitchell, Leach and Sharp, plus the county’s recent overseas signing Travis Head, will be focused on proving Worcestershire’s worth in the First Division.
“Travis is a great acquisition and hopefully Tom Fell can bounce back from a relatively lean year,” said Mitchell. “I think we’re better prepared than in some previous seasons but it’s a tough league and you need to be on the money every single game.”