We’ve got right mix to make yo-yo a no-no, says Joe Leach

Cliches come to mind all too easily when one thinks of Worcestershire.

“Too good for Division Two, not good enough for Division One,” conclude some pundits as they ponder the county’s five promotions and five relegations in 13 seasons.

“A good young side,” say others as they praise New Road’s academy coach, Elliot Wilson.

Which is all very well but anyone thinking of suggesting these lines to Joe Leach this summer should hope Worcestershire’s captain is in his usual courteous mood.

Leach, you see, has had enough of glib judgments – and far more than enough of hearing his team dismissed as a yo-yo side.

“We want to play our cricket in a way that will be sustainable in Division One,” he said. “I thought we had more than enough quality to stay up last year but we had only ourselves to blame we got relegated.

“We put ourselves in positions to win games but then didn’t show the quality or have the luck to see them through.

“Over 14 games you reap what you sow.”

And so Leach’s men must aim to win one of the three promotion spots on offer this season. That will not be straightforward in a division full of ambitious teams, but even if they succeed, their skipper will set high goals for the following years.

“My pet hate is people describing us as a good young side,” he said. “The core of the team is experienced and then we have a group of us who are in our mid to late 20s and after that we have some exceptional young talent.

“Yes, it is a feather in the club’s cap that we are described as a fine young team but this is the sort of side that could match what Surrey or Yorkshire produced when they came out of Division Two.”

Leach had plenty of time to ponder future strategy in 2018.

A stress fracture ended his season in mid-June and he had to watch Worcestershire suffer relegation before seeing them win the T20 Blast at Edgbaston in September.

“I had to learn to be a better watcher than I used to be,” he admitted.

“The first game I missed was the Royal London semi-final against Kent and I was just shocking. I was pacing around the changing-room, jumping up and down, and I probably didn’t help my back much.

“But I learned to detach myself a little more as time passed.”

This spring, though, having completed a full winter training programme, Leach and first-team coach, Alex Gidman, are plotting a defence of the white-ball trophy while taking the first step on a climb to the top of English cricket.

“It’s going to be a really tough division,” he conceded. “People have become quite blasé about our ability to bounce back after relegation but that is not always a given.

“I don’t think you can discount any of the ten counties in the second tier.

“Some that have struggled have made changes and everyone knows this is the best opportunity they’ll get to win promotion in the short term.”

At the same time, Worcestershire are likely to be installed alongside Lancashire, Middlesex and Sussex among the favourites to finish in the top three, a judgment based to some degree on the quality of cricketers like Ed Barnard (49 wickets and 516 runs last season), Josh Tongue (40 wickets in 11 Championship games) and Tom Fell (652 runs).

“Ed’s played three full Championship seasons and if you’ve done that, you’re getting towards being an experienced county professional,” Leach pointed out.

“Josh has had two years and there are guys who have had exposure to Division One cricket before they might have done because of injuries.”

Leach may be thinking of fast bowlers like Dillon Pennington, 19, whose duel with Kane Williamson at Scarborough was a highlight of last season.

Even when reminded of those few overs, though, Worc-estershire’s skipper considers their wider impact.

“It was good because we have a group of four or five 18-22-year-old seamers who are driving each other to get better,” he said.

“Seeing Dillon have that battle with Kane will make bowlers like George Scrimshaw, Pat Brown or Adam Finch want the same sort of headlines.

“The bigger counties often have a battery of seam bowlers and it’s important for us to have a good-sized squad. That helps to make sure our young fast bowlers are exactly that: fast. You need people coming into the squad who are hungry and fresh.”

But, however hungry Pennington and his mates are in April, they may not match the appetite of their captain.

Leach is intent that the most frustrating season of his career will be followed by one of the most satisfying. It is probably unwise to bet against it.


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