Josh Baker is heading out to Sydney this week for a winter of grade cricket which he hopes will help him to hit the ground running with Worcestershire next summer.
The left arm spinner is to play for Northern District CC in the New South Wales Premier Cricket first grade competition for the next four and a half months until early March.
Baker is hoping the two-day games and 50 over fixtures through until March, plus regular training sessions, will be of benefit ahead of the 2024 campaign at New Road.
The 20-year-old has experienced a summer of mixed fortunes, finishing as the Rapids second highest ever wicket-taker for a season in the Metro Bank One Day Cup but finding it a challenge to regain his rhythm in red ball cricket after a lengthy lay off with a back problem.
The wash-out of much of the Seconds early season programme did not aid his preparations for the four-day format.
But Baker took encouragement from the final day of the season against Yorkshire at Headingley when he picked up three wickets.
He said: “Hopefully a winter abroad, bowling for nearly five months, will mean I hit the ground running March-April time.
“I didn’t play as much cricket this year, and I don’t feel like it is the end of the season. I feel like I’m starting to hit my straps now.
“I feel like nothing has changed in my action, it’s just the rhythm, and I felt that started to come back during the One Day Cup and the last game of the season at Yorkshire.
“The red ball season was a little bit up and down. I didn’t think I was at my best bowling-wise although I helped out with the bat a little bit.
“I felt the last day of the Yorkshire game, I was starting to get back to where I was before my back injury and I think that is just down to not bowling as much, stop-start, not being in a good rhythm.
“Hopefully going abroad will help me get my rhythm back and just playing cricket continuously in the winter will be good because I feel like I had a bit of time off.”
Baker ended with 17 One Day Cup wickets, a finger only surpassed in the 2023 tournament by Warwickshire’s Oliver Hannon-Dalby, and only once topped by a Worcestershire player in 2019 by Wayne Parnell with 22 scalps.
He said: “I feel quite comfortable in that format. At the start of the season I played a lot of club cricket so I was used to that format and I enjoyed it.”
Baker admits making the switch from red ball to white ball and back again proved challenging for the young spinner.
He said: “It’s a challenge especially for a spin bowler, trying to change the length you bowl at, angle at the crease, trying to change where you land the ball as well.
“In white ball cricket, if I bowl my red ball lengths it is going to go the distance, so I try and drag my length back and flipping between lengths and pace is quite hard.
“I think that will only get better the more times I do it, and it becomes easier to move between the formats.”
Baker says his confidence received a lift from working in various sessions at New Road throughout the summer with former Pakistan spinner Saqlain Mushtaq who ended his career with 208 Test and 288 ODI wickets.
He said: “It was quite a big help. He is not much of a technical man, he is very much about what’s going on upstairs.
“He was very good for my self confidence, just telling me I’m good enough to be here, which is what I probably needed to hear at the time.
“I didn’t have much confidence and he just helped me bring that confidence up, which was good.”
Baker showed his potential with the bat in his first season of senior action when scoring 61 against Middlesex at Lord’s and last summer his 75 against Gloucestershire at Cheltenham was invaluable.
He said: “I want to try and be more consistent. My mindset switched a little bit from thinking I was a lower order batter. Now I’m thinking I’m a bowler who can bat as well.
“I feel the technical work I did on my batting, while my back was injured and I couldn’t bowl, helped a lot. I felt like I was reaping the rewards of that but I want to try and kick on.
“I still haven’t scored a hundred yet so that’s a big one on the checklist.”
Also playing overseas this winter is Gareth Roderick, who was on the losing side in his first match of the winter skippering Green Point in a Western Province Premier Division 50 over fixture against Milnerton.
Roderick picked up two catches as Milnerton were reduced to 42-6 after being put into bat but recovered to reach 188 all out.
Green Point reached 71-1 in reply but Roderick (18), batting number three, was dismissed on that total and they were bowled out for 131.