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Fans, dare to dream of first t20 finals day trip
IT’S fair to say Worcestershire and Twenty20 cricket have never been the happiest of bedfellows.
Since the inception of the 20-over game in 2003, the New Road outfit have continually struggled to make an impact, reaching the quarter-final stage on just two occasions and never progressing to the prestigious finals day.
However, this year — whisper it quietly — Mitch’s men seem to be onto something and, without wanting to jinx the current campaign, the class of 2012 are playing the shortest format of the game like no Worcestershire side before them. In short, they’re playing well.
Prior to last night’s trip to Sophia Gardens for the re-arranged Glamorgan game, skipper Daryl Mitchell had led his troops to four wins out of five completed matches — unheard of form for the County in t20 cricket. Although they were well beaten at home to local rivals Warwickshire, t20 is a fickle beast and if a team is just one per cent below their best, they can — and often will — suffer a hiding.
In addition to that, the opening fixture of this campaign resulted in a wash-out at Edgbaston, but — games against Warwickshire aside — Worcestershire have been one of the top sides in this year’s tournament, not just in the Midlands/Wales/West group, but nationwide.
T20 specialists and group leaders Somerset were comprehensively dismantled on their notoriously tough-to-visit Taunton headquarters and teams throughout the land will have started to sit up and take notice of Steve Rhodes’ unheralded squad.
While fortunes can change quickly in this fast-paced format, Worcestershire are going about things the right way, deserve to reach the last eight and their fans can rightly dare to dream of a long-awaited trip to finals day, which this year is at Sophia Gardens on August 25.
So, what are the County doing differently this term to the nine previous campaigns?
Well, the batting is reliable and the top three are regularly making a solid start to the innings — both in posting a score or chasing one down.
Vikram Solanki and Moeen Ali are attractive shot-makers and fast scorers, while Phil Hughes has been a revelation.
Before yesterday’s contest, he was tied with Durham’s former Springbok ace Hershelle Gibbs as the competition’s leading run-scorer with 269 from just five innings. Gibbs, however, has had three more trips to the middle for his tally, which is shown by the fact Hughes is averaging a massive 45 more than the South African with 89.66 comapred to 44.83.
This solid platform has meant the middle-order strikers, such as Gareth Andrew and James Cameron, have been able to come in at the right time and bolster the total rather than trying to repair the damage.
Then, with the ball, director of cricket Rhodes has put together a well-drilled unit who all know their strengths and work well in tandem.
Jack Shantry, Andrew and Dave Lucas have impressed with the new ball and, crucially, at the death, while Mitchell and Moeen have mostly exerted good control in the middle overs.
However, one of the biggest improvements has been in the field — inspired by the likes of the livewire Brett D’Oliveira — and Mitchell insists the current team’s fielding is better than any Worcestershire side he has played in.
All in all, it’s probably just as well the farcical Sohail Tanvir saga ended with the deal to bring the Pakistani all-rounder to New Road eventually being scrapped. He wouldn’t have got a game in this side.