Worcestershire CCC Club Captain Joe Leach has given his assessment of the 2021 campaign in Group 1 of the LV=Insurance County Championship.
The hard-fought draw with Warwickshire at New Road was Worcestershire’s sixth of the season to go alongside one victory – against Derbyshire – and three defeats.
Leach believes that overall progress has been made in red-ball cricket during the past two years, with batsman Jake Libby and all-rounders Ed Barnard and Brett D’Oliveira having just completed outstanding 2021 seasons.
But, to be successful, Leach says more players need to mirror that sort of form and that the promising crop of youngsters need to turn potential into match-winning consistency.
He said: “How do you reflect on the campaign? Disappointing, if I’m honest. We’ve not been a million miles away and, if you look at the table, one more win might have propelled us to the top of the middle group or even into the second spot.
“At times, we’ve played some outstanding cricket, but we didn’t get many rewards for that in terms of wins, partly because of a couple of wickets we played on, partly not being able to capitalise on opportunities when they presented themselves.
“We had poor away games, if I’m honest, at Durham and Nottinghamshire, where we kind of capitulated under a bit of pressure against two good bowling attacks.
“Those two games aside, I think we can be reasonably pleased. Over the last two years, there has been progress if you take last year’s performances and a large part of this year’s performances.
“We have seen progress from where we were in 2018 and 2019, where we lost a lot of games. We are becoming harder to beat, which is good. We just need to keep moving forward, putting together those performances and hopefully starting to turn a few of those draws into wins.”
Leach added: “We’ve had individuals who have had outstanding campaigns but, if we wanted to finish higher up the table, we needed to have more people to have those kind of campaigns.
“Jake (Libby) has been outstanding, he has been since he has joined. Ed (Barnard) has had a phenomenal year with the bat, and Brett (D’Oliveira), with bat and ball, has contributed in an all-round capacity exceptionally well.
“If we had had a couple more of those contributions, we might have finished higher, but unfortunately, that wasn’t to be.”
Worcestershire were one of only two counties who played nine Championship games in a row, several of them on flat wickets on which bowlers toiled away for little reward.
Leach said: “It’s been pretty brutal, to be honest for us. Essex away, the two home games we had early on and then having to back up nine games in a row, it’s been hard.
“But look, that is the nature of the beast. We were probably a little bit unfortunate with the way the scheduling worked out. We didn’t get a week off after four or five weeks. We copped nine weeks in a row and this one game on its own at the end.
“But the table doesn’t lie ultimately. We’ve finished in the bottom two because we’ve not competed well enough to get higher than that. No sour grapes, that’s just the way it is.
“Are we a red ball side in transition? We are certainly a red ball side that is trying to improve. I don’t think we are as settled or established as the white ball side has been over the past few years.
“We have integrated a few youngsters. You’ve seen Josh Baker here this week, Jack Haynes, some of the young seamers. They are starting to get games under their belt.
“To be a good four-day side, we need those youngsters to turn potential into consistency, match-winning consistency, and then for some of us older folks to stick our hands up at times as well because we probably haven’t done that if we are honest this season.
“If we can get that consistency, we will continue to develop, I’m sure.”
Daryl Mitchell and Barnard scored hundreds against Warwickshire, who batted out the final day to earn a share of the spoils.
Reflecting on the Warwickshire game, Leach said: “Excellent to see Daryl return to form. To have his experience and know-how at the top, scoring runs gives the rest of the group a lot of confidence.
“For Ed to bat six and score a hundred is really good for us, not just now but moving forward to help the balance of the side.
“It’s really exciting what we can do with that if he continues to score those kind of runs.
“It was pretty similar to a couple of the wickets we’ve had here this season. It was hard to tell which side probably had the better of it at the end of four days, to be honest.
“It wasn’t conducive to taking 20 wickets on it. I think we tried. It was pretty obvious that we wanted it to take a little bit of spin. It did take spin at times, but it was just a little bit too slow when it did.
“A pretty flat wicket, a pretty high-scoring game and a very similar pattern to the first two games of the season here.”