Will Hawkes: Worcestershire aim to make mockery of bookies' predictions

County Focus
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The Independent Online

Forecasting is a fool's game, particularly when it comes to county cricket. There have already been a number of results this season that defy all sporting logic, chief among them Somerset's humbling defeat by an innings and 382 runs to Warwickshire. The Edgbaston side so nearly went down in 2010 while Marcus Trescothick's men chased the title into the campaign's final hour – and yet it was the latter who suffered the sixth-largest margin of defeat in Championship history on Saturday.

Even in such a competition, however, there are some things that can surely be relied upon. Take Worcestershire, who most observers expect to be relegated come September. Few, indeed, thought they would be promoted last season and their opening-week defeat against Yorkshire – by nine wickets, at Worcester – does not augur well for a successful campaign. Then there's the fact that in recent years they've been promoted twice – and relegated immediately both times.

Understandably, though, they're not quite ready to read the last rites down at New Road. "We're the bookies' favourite to go down but it's up to us to prove them wrong," says Steve Rhodes, the club's coach. "Staying up would be a huge success. It means we can enjoy the year's experiences and take that forward into 2012. That doesn't mean we want to set our sights too low, because you don't want to be in a dogfight at the end of the season."

Today sees the arrival of Warwickshire, the club's local rivals and a side on the up after their victory in Taunton. "It's very obvious who the favourites are," Rhodes says. "But I do enjoy being a team that is seen as amongst the lesser lights because you get the chance to prove people wrong.

"It was a special game for me when I was a player. They're obviously the big brother of the Midlands, with Test status and a huge concrete ground while we're the sleepy little riverside city. I always enjoyed being the underdog." What mustn't be forgotten is just how well last season went for Worcestershire. After flooding problems at New Road in recent seasons, the county was promoted whilst making a handy profit in a year when 15 of the 18 professional clubs made a loss. Key to the club's success were the runs scored by captain Daryl Mitchell, Alexei Kervezee and Moeen Ali, who yesterday agreed a new contract. Rhodes is hoping for more of the same this season.

"The club making a profit was extremely pleasing in terms of the flooding the year before," said Rhodes. "We've got a club that's lasted over a hundred years and we want that to carry on. We've also got some good young players that managed to get us promoted – and if those three batsmen can do the same this year, that would be really good progress."

Rhodes himself is a big part of that history, having come to the club in 1985 from his native Yorkshire. During that time he has seen plenty of changes, none more dramatic than when Ian Botham and Graham Dilley arrived in 1987. It seems remarkable now that two of England's biggest stars should sign for Worcestershire but as Rhodes says, it was pretty unusual then.

"It was always quite difficult [to compete with the bigger clubs]," he says. "What you mustn't forget is that their salaries were aided by some outside help. We'd like to see some of that now as it would help us to get some top players." For now, though, Worcestershire will have to upset the odds with what they have.

Ireland happy after ICC reopens cup debate

Cricket Ireland have welcomed International Cricket Council president Sharad Pawar's decision to reopen the debate about the structure of the 2015 World Cup but acknowledge the argument is far from won.

Ireland were perceived as the main victim of the ICC executive board's ruling to reduce the competition from 14 teams to 10, with only full member nations invited to take part. Having made their protests to Pawar, the non-Test playing nations have been buoyed by news that the president has requested the board reconsider their plans.

Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom said. "It is encouraging that the president has reopened this issue but there is still a way to go. This is a positive step but we're cautious about it because it is the same 10 people having the same debate about the same issues."