By Josh Richards
HAVING won the Division Two title last summer to achieve promotion, Worcestershire should be riding the crest of a wave when the new season kicks off next week.
In reality, they are treading water, with three quarters of their New Road home sodden due to heavy pre-April showers and it’s all change in the backroom following director of cricket Steve Rhodes’ untidy sacking in December.
Yet skipper Joe Leach insists they will voyage down to Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl for their first Division One match since 2015 buoyant.
“There’s been speed bumps in the road, but this group is mature enough to deal with them and throw ourselves into our cricket,” said the 27-year-old.
“We had a good pre-season tour to Abu Dhabi and got back a couple of weeks ago. It’s the fifth year in a row that we’ve been away in pre-season and its invaluable.
“To get ten solid days of uninterrupted outdoor cricket in has been so important, because if we had stayed here we would have been really undercooked.
“When we were in Abu Dhabi it certainly felt like the momentum from last season was still there. The group has largely stayed the same, but we’ve added some real quality.”
That ‘real quality’ is 38-year-old Australian bowler Steve Magoffin, back at the county where he spent the 2008 campaign and eligible to play across all formats.
The reliable bowler has come from Sussex, where he has led the attack for the last five years, and he will be especially dangerous in the early weeks of the season on spring’s green pitches.
Standing 6ft 4in, Magoffin is making his presence known off the pitch for new coach Kevin Sharp’s side and Leach cannot wait to see him on it.
“Steve is a gem of a signing,” added Leach.
“We’ve already seen the benefits of what he can bring to us off the field, just having someone there who has been in the game for as long as he has.
“He has been great with the younger bowlers and now we can’t wait to get him out on the pitch and watch him go. His record speaks for itself.”
As well as winning Division Two last term, Worcestershire reached the Royal London One-Day Cup semi-finals after storming to the top of their group.
Eventually their run was ended by Surrey in a one-sided semi-final, with Jason Roy plundering 92 and Gareth Barry taking 5-40.
The only blot on their copy book came in the T20 Blast, where the Rapids suffered ten defeats from 14 North Division games.
Seeking to address that, New Zealand opener Martin Guptill – fifth in the ICC T20 batsman rankings – will join up for their first eight Blast matches, with Callum Ferguson, of Australia, replacing him for the final six.
And Leach wants his team to shine in the white-ball game, where they are targeting the knock-out stages in both competitions.
“There was such a buzz about the place when we knew Martin Guptill would be coming in,” said the all-rounder.
“It’s an exciting looking top order. Travis Head, Joe Clarke, Martin Guptill, maybe Mooen Ali, depending on his England commitments, that’s scary and shows the ambition we’ve got.
“Our white-ball side should be looking towards winning one of the trophies. We were so strong in the One-Day Cup group stage last season.
“In terms of the county season, it’s more about what I don’t want us to achieve, which is not just to avoid relegation. We are better than that. I think we can take heart from what Essex did last season.”