New arrivals excite Rhodes
Steve Rhodes is hoping his two “hungry” new signings can help Worcestershire thrive in 2013.
Following relegation from Division One of the LV= County Championship last summer, director of cricket Rhodes moved to add pace bowler Graeme Cessford and Australian wicketkeeper Michael Johnson to the New Road ranks.
Cessford, 29, has been granted elite athlete status by the RAF, having impressed for Worcestershire’s second XI, while the 24-year-old Johnson will not be classed as an overseas player due to his British passport.
Rhodes is confident both players can make an impact, particularly as they each have a point to prove - for different reasons.
Discussing the capture of Cessford with ecb.co.uk, Rhodes said: “He’s an interesting signing because he’s come into the system a totally different way to the norm nowadays, which tends to be through your junior cricket and academy systems, or signing from another county.
“It’s a gamble, but only a little gamble. He’s on a one-year contract; he’s got a bit of time out from RAF duties and he’s got a lot to prove, but I know he wants it."
Cessford was brought to Worcestershire’s attention by a contact of assistant coach and academy director Damian D’Oliveira.
At 29, the seamer is a late entrant to the county scene, but Rhodes explained: “Whilst we don’t want to sign a load of old men, we’re always quite open to giving people opportunities if we can."
Assessing Cessford’s qualities, Rhodes added: “He’s quite raw because he hasn’t played the amount of cricket a lot of the guys would have played, (but) he has got pace; he’s probably quicker than anyone we have got on our staff.
“He’s still a little bit erratic but we hope to get that right and he’s worked very hard on his fitness this winter. He’s keen, enthusiastic; he wants it and we’ve just got to unleash him in the summer now and see how he goes. We’re pleased to have him.”
If a bedding-in period can perhaps be anticipated for Cessford, who has never previously played professional cricket, Rhodes believes Johnson can make an immediate impression.
Deemed surplus to requirements at Western Australia after making 10 first-class appearances between 2009 and 2011, Johnson will now challenge Ben Cox for the right to be Worcestershire’s number-one gloveman.
“Both him and Cessford have got a point to prove and I like hungry players because they tend to come up trumps,” said Rhodes.
“He’s served an apprenticeship with Western Australia and he had the news that nobody wants to hear, that they had decided to move on from him and play the other lad (Tom) Triffitt who they had brought over from Tasmania.
“That came as a massive jolt to somebody who had been in the system from a very early age and not many people get the opportunity to have a second chance; he’s got that with us. He’s got a British passport, which means he can play as a local, and we’re going to give him a go.
“How will he do? That ball is in Michael’s court. He’s experienced even though he’s only 24, through his work with WA but also through being very influential at Scarborough Cricket Club in Perth. He was involved in three championship-winning pennants there and batted high up the order at number four.
“He can bat and he can keep wicket. He’s got good footwork and I think we’ll hopefully see a very good gloveman and somebody who can do the job of blending the batters with the all-rounders and tail.”
Johnson also comes highly recommended, with Kent high performance director Simon Willis among those to have sung his praises to Rhodes.
“What Simon said about him is that he felt he was ready,” Rhodes revealed. “I went out to Perth and liked what I saw. It confirmed the belief that Simon had in him.
“I met him two or three times when I was out there, had long chats over coffees and in many ways tested him. I was trying to work out how much he wanted it and in the end I was pleased to offer him a deal.
“I’m obviously enthusiastic when talking about Cessford and Johnson because we wouldn’t have signed them otherwise, but I think the important thing that they both realise is that it’s up to them. We’re giving them an opportunity to show what they can do and fingers crossed they’ll have long and bright successful careers.”