Head Coach Alex Gidman has praised Worcestershire CCC’s players for the resolute way they dealt with the challenges presented off the pitch before demonstrating an excellent standard of cricket in the Bob Willis Trophy.
The squad encountered some of the most severe and elongated floods seen at New Road – and indeed across the entire country – before the impact of COVID-19 delayed the start of the 2020 season until August 1.
But under the “outstanding” captaincy of Joe Leach, Worcestershire produced some fine and consistent four-day performances in the Bob Willis Trophy which meant they were in contention for a Lord’s final spot until the very last day of the Central Group campaign.
They earned praise from eventual group winners Somerset and Gidman says the target is to reproduce for “years to come” the form shown in the five matches.
Here he looks back over all aspects of the campaign pre and post lockdown in a Question And Answer Session.
Question: What are your reflections of the entire 12 months with the extensive flooding and COVID-19 and the shortened season?
Alex Gidman: “It has been extremely challenging for so many people, and naturally, our thoughts and my thoughts are with those people who have been more affected than us. In whatever form that is, it has been challenging for a lot of people, and it’s been really sad to see it all unfold.
“From a cricketing point of view, it has hugely affected the game, and we probably haven’t seen the full effect just yet, and part of that is the players at our club – or any club – but I think our players dealt with it really well.
“There was a lot of uncertainty at times, which was completely understandable, and they stayed patient and dealt with it really well and then once we got the go-ahead, the cricket was great, full of excitement and the guys adapted well.
“As I said to them, I feel like we made the most of the season. It feels like we’ve had a ‘proper’ season and lots of positives to move forward with.”
Question: Everyone was focused on the first week of April. Did you have to rethink again after building up for five months to that scenario and then suddenly it’s all change?
Alex Gidman: “The first month, we all thought it would be over really quickly, and we’d maybe start in May, but then that didn’t happen, and it was then June, and the date kept getting pushed back.
“We had lots of little contingency plans and thinking ‘if that happens, we’ll do that’ and so on. It just went on and on, but things started to get better and thankfully the powers that be did a great job to get the cricket in we’ve played.
“Communication was the key with the players. We set up various channels to make sure we could keep in constant communication with them to check they were okay because quite a few of them live by themselves or with a partner and it was potentially quite a lonely time for that period.
“But again our players were great, and they dealt with it well.”
Question: The Rapids Relay proved to be a masterstroke from you because it not only provided funds for a worthy cause but gave the lads a new challenge during the periods they were training on their own?
Alex Gidman: “It was intended to raise some money for a great local charity and cause (Acorns Children’s Hospice) which is what we achieved. A couple of by-products of it were gaining more fitness and getting everyone together virtually. It just made a week go pass quickly, and we had a lot of fun doing it, which was important and raised a lot of money in the end, which was fantastic.”
Question: You came back in off furlough on June 22, a week earlier than most clubs, and had a good six-week build-up to the season in the end?
Alex Gidman: “We were grateful for that from the club’s point of view, and that was very generous and great for us. It meant we had the extra week outside. I think it was in the end off-set by one of the weeks at Kidderminster which was very wet and we missed quite a lot of cricket.
“It kind of balanced itself out, but it was great to get back mentally more than anything. It wouldn’t have made a huge amount of difference from a batting and bowling aspect but was more the fact the guys had it to look forward a bit earlier, and it was great to see everyone that first week, to see the shackles released a little bit and to see the guys doing what they do best and what they love.”
Question: Because of COVID-19, it’s almost been forgotten the severe floods which swept the country and New Road and affected pre-season?
Alex Gidman: “I haven’t seen anything like it here or in the surrounding areas. It was pretty devastating, and understandably the ground was in a mess. It would have been a disruptive beginning to the season anyway without COVID-19 striking.
“But, as always, the Club did a great job of getting the ground up and running. It was probably the most challenging time because the ground got battered for the whole winter. The majority of the winter, the ground was underwater, before that final burst in February.”
Question: When you get onto the field, it was a very rewarding experience with the Bob Willis Trophy?
Alex Gidman: “The boys were brilliant. I think they were led exceptionally well by Joe (Leach). I thought his leadership was outstanding in the whole campaign, and there were vast improvements on the pitch from everyone.
“The players did the basic things as well as they possibly could, and that was good enough to win games and to be the better team in most of the games. We came up against an extremely strong side in Somerset, but I think we matched them and went toe to toe, but they just had the better of things over the four innings.
“We’ve had some excellent feedback from them, they were full of praise for the way we went about our business and the challenge we presented to them which is nice to hear, but equally we’ve got to use that as motivation to do that week in, week out not just for five games but for years to come.
“We’ve been a lot better for it, and it was a great competition, we enjoyed it, and are incredibly grateful to the powers that be that put it together, but in the end gutted we didn’t quite get over the line and get to a final. “
Question: Six players averaged over 40 with the bat, which is an indication of how well things progressed and the work everyone did during the winter months?
Alex Gidman: “We put together what I believe to be a really good programme last winter. It included quite a lot of change. Change isn’t always easy, but I think the players adapted to change well. It meant getting back and driving over to Malvern College from November onwards which the players were very comfortable with, in the end, and we had to go back to basics.
“The game of cricket is about doing the basics better than the opposition. The danger and temptation is to try too hard and think you’ve got to be smarter than you have. It’s about being quite boring at times but enjoying that and taking a huge amount of satisfaction from occupying the crease and bowling economically.
“When we did those two things, we were a good team, and that started with the training in November, and the messages that were given to the players and they took them on board. The players were outstanding last winter. I thought this year might be quite challenging, but every single player said they can’t wait to get going again in November so really looking forward to that already.”
Question: It couldn’t have gone any better for Jake Libby in his first season?
Alex Gidman: “Exactly that. It was an outstanding season. When anyone changes clubs, there is often a period to settle in and feel comfortable, but he seemed to fit in immediately, and it was clear how comfortable he was when he scored runs.
“Generally if it takes time, it is reflected on the pitch but to come and score as many runs as he did so quickly showed how good a player he is but how comfortable the lads made him feel. It was good to see.”
Question: In the Vitality Blast, you said it was small margins, and you missed two or three experienced players?
Alex Gidman: “From the outside looking in, it is disappointing how things went, but if you strip it back and look more in-depth at it, we were exposed in some areas that we may have taken for granted, it could have been what we needed to move on again. We can really revisit things and get our heads down and work on some areas hard in the winter.
“The missing players have been key players for us, we know that, but it also showed we are not quite ready to step up to the plate when those players aren’t with us which is okay. We’ve got to accept it, deal with it and come up with a plan of how we can improve.
“I know this group don’t want to be relying on one or two individuals to win games, and they are desperate to improve and go again next season.”