Worcestershire back from the brink
Four months ago today, Worcestershire were languishing at the foot of the LV= County Championship Division One table, having lost their first six games.
After experiencing the pain of relegation in their three previous top-flight campaigns, the New Road outfit appeared destined to once again make a swift return to Division Two.
Yet when ecb.co.uk caught up with the club’s captain Daryl Mitchell this week, we were able to reflect on a successful season, which saw his side defy expectations by avoiding the drop.
Four wins in their remaining 10 fixtures, including a remarkable 10-wicket victory over eventual champions Lancashire inside five sessions, proved enough to elevate the Pears above Yorkshire and Hampshire into seventh position.
An upbeat Mitchell said: “One of our major goals at the start of the year was to stay up in Division One. It’s something we hadn’t achieved before as well, so it was pretty important to us, and fortunately we managed to get over the line.
“Division One is where you want to be playing your cricket, obviously. It’s the top league in the country and you want to test yourself as a player against the best teams and the best players.
“For the club, it’s obviously positive to be in that division and among the top nine teams in the country.”
Although many had written Worcestershire off following their sixth straight defeat, Mitchell insists spirits remained high in the dressing room.
“It was important that morale remained pretty high and we were enjoying our cricket,” he continued.
“Even the games we lost, we were in plenty of those games, we were in very good positions at times and probably deserved more out of the games than we got.
“It wasn’t too difficult (to maintain confidence). It was just a case of reiterating the fact that we were close to getting there.
“We always thought if we continued to play the cricket we were playing and performing well and working hard, that result would come and fortunately it did (in the form of a six-wicket victory over Nottinghamshire).
“On our day we are good enough to beat anybody in that division. We competed against all the sides at one point or the other and we beat some very good teams.
“We can only be better for that next year. The young guys are all going to be a year older and hopefully we can kick on and move higher up the table next year.”
Mitchell may be optimistic over the prospects of the more youthful members of his squad, but he also recognises the key roles played by two senior players this term.
Former England one-day international batsman Vikram Solanki, an elegant presence in Worcestershire’s top order for more than a decade, contributed 1,148 championship runs - making him the sixth-highest run-scorer in the competition.
Even his sterling efforts, however, paled in comparison to veteran seamer Alan Richardson, whose 73 wickets, at an average of 24, represented the largest haul in Division One.
"We’ve got a good mix with the (youngsters and) experienced heads,” Mitchell added.
“Alan Richardson, in particular, was outstanding this year with the ball and Vikram Solanki with the bat. They both carried us through games single-handedly at times with their performances. They were fantastic for us.”
Mitchell, who succeeded Solanki as skipper last August, is now determined to ensure his team continue their upward progression next year.
The four-day game remains the 27-year-old’s priority, yet he is also keen to oversee improvement in both limited-overs formats.
This year, the club narrowly missed out on qualification for the Friends Life t20 quarter-finals, but performed poorly in the Clydesdale Bank 40, winning just two matches.
Mitchell said: “We’ve certainly made progress in the Twenty20 and hopefully we can kick on next year and qualify for a quarter-final.
“The CB40 was disappointing really. We were poor in that competition for the majority of the season.
“Obviously, not starting too well in that competition means you are pretty much out of it and that was a factor. We need to be better next year, start better and stay in the competition for a lot longer than we did this year.
“We’ll sit down over the winter and set out a few goals, but we need to improve our one-day form and try and qualify from the groups in the t20 and CB40.
“Again, championship survival is the key, to stay in Division One, but hopefully this time with a bit more ease. We’ll aim a little bit higher and try and climb up that table.”