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Worcestershire CCC - 2020 Season
Worcestershire County Cricket Club

County Champions: 1964, 1965, 1974, 1988, 1989
One-Day Champions: 1991, 1994
T20 Champions: 2018

2020 Season

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In the closing days of March it looked unlikely that this thread would ever exist, as COVID-19 threatened to make this the first summer since 1945 that not a single ball would be bowled at New Road.  But we've come a long way since then; and to paraphrase John Arlott (who wrote with the storm-clouds of war fast approaching), Peter's cathedral still soars, Severn gleams blue and wide beyond the score-box, and with the fierce midday sun upon the ground, through heat-haze will soon come the wary sound of bat on ball.

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It'll naturally be a truncated campaign, but in many ways a purist's dream.  For the first time in years, the month of August will see weekly first-class matches beginning on Saturday and finishing on Tuesday, until the T20 tournament commences in time for September.  The counties will be competing for the one-off prize of the Bob Willis Trophy, and that inaugural competition throws Worcestershire into a fairly tough group containing Division One teams Warwickshire, Somerset, Northants and Gloucestershire, and stiff Division Two opposition Glamorgan.  The consolation is that we get treated to three home matches, which will hopefully give us chance to see newcomers like Jake Libby in action.

I wouldn't say expectations are high; in fact, I wouldn't say there are any expectations at all.  2020 has been one of those years that teaches you to appreciate what you might otherwise take for granted, and the fact that we'll get to see county cricket over the next two months is a gift in itself.  Come on you Pears.

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Better late than never: after a routine warm-up against Warks, the season starts tomorrow with a jaunt down the M5 to kick off the Bob Willis Trophy against Gloucestershire at Bristol. The corresponding fixture last summer at Cheltenham ended with an abysmal Pears collapse when it would have been easier to win than lose, and that unlikely result propelled the West Country boys towards eventual promotion. They'll have to wait another eight months to have a crack at Division One, and Worcs will likewise wait for our next bite of the promotion cherry, but in the meantime, this is a good chance to measure where both teams stand and maybe make amends for last year's errors.

The Pears will stick with the squad that played at Edgbaston, doing without white-ball international Moeen Ali and Kolpak Wayne Parnell, but looking to hand a full first-class county debut to Jake Libby as opener, while hopefully getting another look at Gareth Roderick, who's set to join us from Gloucs at the end of this season. A fit Joe Leach will again skipper the side.

Probable Worcestershire XI: Mitchell, Libby, Fell, Haynes, D'Oliveira, Wessels, Cox (wk), Barnard, Leach ©, Tongue, Morris

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Bob Willis Trophy, Central Group

vs Gloucestershire

Day One

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Morning: Gloucestershire won the toss and elected to bat on a warm Bristol morning that saw patchy cloud yield way to fine August sunshine. On a good pitch, chances were few, and the Pears were soon toiling for a breakthrough which eventually came in the twelfth over, when Miles Hammond attempted to drive Josh Tongue and edged behind for 14 to give Worcestershire their first wicket in eleven months. Number three Graeme van Buuren then rode his luck, edging a couple of times as the session wore on, but survived till lunch with the home side 84-1.

Afternoon: Gloucestershire picked up where they left off, with first Chris Dent and then Van Buuren reaching their half-century as the second-wicket partnership piled on a comfortable 127. It took Brett D'Oliveira to step up and break the stand with a yorker that bowled Van Buuren for 60, but again, that was the only wicket to fall in a session that saw Gloucs progress to 173-2, seemingly in charge of the game.

Evening: But there are three sessions in every day, and with Dent in the nervous nineties, Dolly struck for the second time to bowl the opener for 92 as the ball spun clean past his bat and into the off-stump. Having bowled a tight line all day, Charlie Morris got his reward soon after when George Hankins chopped onto his stumps for 30, and that truly opened the floodgates for a Gloucestershire collapse. Tongue claimed his second scalp with Jack Taylor edging to first slip for a duck, before Morris took two in one over, bowling Ryan Higgins for 18 and Tom Price for a duck. Then Joe Leach brought himself into the attack and had David Payne caught behind for 1, completing the implosion that took Gloucs from 205-2 to 243-8. They managed three more runs before six o'clock to close on 246-8, handing Worcestershire the day's honours and the momentum going into Sunday.

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Day Two

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Morning: Another sunny morning by the Avon, and Josh Tongue wasted no time taking the ninth Gloucestershire wicket as Josh Shaw edged behind in the very first over. But though future Pear Gareth Roderick played a few handsome attacking shots to move the scoreboard along before the second new ball, he managed only an unbeaten 25 before Charlie Morris had Matt Taylor caught behind for 1, and the innings concluded at 267 all out. Worcestershire's reply began confidently, with Jake Libby scoring his first runs for the county with a cut for four through deep point while Daryl Mitchell helped himself to three consecutive boundaries off Taylor's first over, and the Pears consequently went to lunch 67 without loss.

Afternoon: With half-centuries apiece for Mitch and Libby, Worcs progressed to 152 with little cause for concern until the former attempted to pull a short ball from Tom Price and bottom-edged onto the stumps, departing for 80. Tom Fell was the new man, and managed six runs before tea came with Worcestershire on 161-1.

Evening: Jake Libby couldn't convert his maiden half-century to a ton, nicking a David Payne delivery to first slip for 77, but he left the Pears in a position as strong as that which Gloucestershire had enjoyed a day earlier. It was up to Fell and Jack Haynes to ensure our innings didn't go the same way, and though the home side bowled a tight line and kept both batsmen on a leash, there were no further scares as Worcestershire closed on 223-2, claiming the day's honours again. Under the rules of the Bob Willis Trophy, Worcs will have another thirty-eight overs of this first innings tomorrow, so the strategy must be to weather the new ball in the morning, keep wickets in hand and then attack in the last fifteen. If the pitch stays good for batting then a draw may well be on the cards, but a lead of 150 or more would put the Pears firmly in the driving seat.

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Day Three

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Morning: The beginning of what promises to be a marvellous August week, and after adding ten runs to the overnight score, the third-wicket stand was broken when Tom Fell was adjudged LBW to Josh Shaw for 39. But the Pears picked up the pace, and Jack Haynes brought up his maiden first-class fifty with a smart shot to the midwicket boundary before perishing the next over, LBW to Ryan Higgins for 51. With Dolly attacking the new ball and Riki Wessels chalking up a brisk 19 off seventeen balls before lobbing a pull shot into Van Buuren's hands on the boundary, Worcestershire reached the interval at 336-5 with just eight overs remaining in the innings.

Afternoon: And what an eight overs. Going straight into white-ball mode, Dolly immediately completed his half-century as he and Ben Cox accelerated, scoring all round the wicket in a full-on assault. There were some truly rank deliveries to put away, but the armoury of uppercuts and reverse flicks alongside power-slogs down the ground pushed Worcs up to a commanding 428-5 off the allotted overs; a lead of 161. There was time for the perfect session to get even better as Gloucestershire lost Miles Hammond for 9 to Charlie Morris, caught low at second slip with a brilliant diving catch, followed at length by Graeme Van Buuren departing for the same score, LBW to Josh Tongue. 60-2 at tea, trailing by 101, the home side had it all to do.

Evening: And all credit to them, they made a good fist of it after the resumption, with Chris Dent and George Hankins digging in through five consecutive maiden overs while the ball moved menacingly. The run-rate picked up thereafter, and the partnership had advanced to a fairly comfortable 88 - with just a few overs of the day remaining - when Charlie Morris finally got a ball to move late on Dent, picking up the edge and carrying straight to the keeper. A huge, huge wicket to cap the day's efforts and ensure that Worcestershire again retired on top, with Gloucestershire closing on 135-3, trailing by 26. Time is now the greatest enemy for the Pears, and with plenty of batting to come, anything except a total Gloucs collapse in the morning will probably result in a stiff run-chase against the clock in the final session of the match.

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Day Four

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Morning: Tuesday dawned cool and overcast in contrast to the weekend, and resuming on 135-3, nightwatchman Josh Shaw went on the charge with a few boundaries in his 21 before he departed LBW to Josh Tongue. It was Daryl Mitchell who accounted for Ryan Higgins in the same fashion, striking him on the back leg and dismissing him for 6. The home side then dug in, with George Hankins making his half-century and Jack Taylor scoring just three runs off 53 balls before the interval, which Gloucestershire reached on 206-5, leading by 45.

Afternoon: As Gloucs looked to occupy the crease and run down the clock, the match stood poised in the balance. It was a tremendous blow, therefore, when Tongue rapped Hankins on the pad with a full-length delivery, removing the man who'd been anchoring the innings for a well-made 69. Even then, Gloucestershire continued the resistance, but as the session wore on, big Joe Leach kept a cool head and backed himself to make the difference. In the space of three overs he accounted for Gareth Roderick LBW for 9, debutant Tom Price in the same fashion for a duck, then Jack Taylor edging to second slip for 23. The last-wicket partnership piled on another 31 for Gloucs, but when Leach made it four wickets with a ball that clattered into David Payne's leg stump, the hosts were 270 all out with a lead of just 109, and that was a very satisfactory target for the Pears to contemplate over an early tea.

Evening: The openers made a steady start to the chase without being overly aggressive, knowing that early wickets could scupper us. In the end, it was an attempt to accelerate that caused the first wobble, with Daryl Mitchell bowled for 18 by Josh Shaw as he attempted to show some intent, and Jake Libby caught at backward point for 25 off the same bowler, trying to slash the ball away for four. A short rebuild followed, but over the course of the next eight overs Tom Fell looked assured as he made a run-a-ball 32, and Jack Haynes was no less impressive for his 28, including the boundary through extra cover that sealed the win with no shortage of time and wickets to spare.

Worcestershire WIN by eight wickets

The Verdict: An emphatic victory that makes the much-anticipated return of county cricket all the sweeter. Since topping Division Two nearly three years ago, Worcestershire have managed only five first-class wins from twenty-eight matches, but in this - the long-awaited sixth - there are signs that the problems of the last couple of years are on the way to being solved. If Leach, Tongue and Morris stay fit, twenty wickets each weekend are no obstacle; and the arrival of Jake Libby alongside the extra year's experience for Jack Haynes might well have shored up the top order. With 22 points from this opening fixture, the Pears sit top of the Central Group, and will have the chance to build on their perfect start with a welcome return to New Road hosting Glamorgan at the weekend.

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There have been plenty of false dawns for the Pears in red-ball cricket over the last couple of years - too many to get excited over one solitary win - but nevertheless, last weekend suggested that there are plenty of positives to build on as Glamorgan visit New Road on Saturday. They tend to be stiff opposition for Worcestershire, but with the three groups of the Bob Willis Trophy currently being topped by the three teams that propped up Division Two last summer, there's a sense that the competition is wide open, and there's no greater incentive to give the Welshmen a proper game.

The Pears have named an unchanged squad, and barring any unforeseen injuries, the team will probably remain the same too. With Ed Barnard, Jack Haynes and Josh Tongue all signing contract extensions this week hopefully we'll get to see the very best from them over the next four days.

Probable Worcestershire XI: Mitchell, Libby, Fell, Haynes, D'Oliveira, Wessels, Cox (wk), Barnard, Leach ©, Tongue, Morris

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