Worcestershire, the County Championship’s perennial “yo-yo club”, have secured promotion back to Division One, putting behind them a difficult season that has seen a series of homegrown players leave.
Resuming on 280 for five at Headingley, Worcestershire required just 20 more runs to add the second batting bonus point they required to secure promotion to the top flight alongside champions Durham.
Captain Brett D’Oliveira – grandson of Basil and son of Damian, another stalwart of the county – fell for 103 when his side were just a single run shy of promotion, but they went on to post 389 and they were able to celebrate a job well done. D’Oliveira admitted it was a “relief to get over the line”.
Alan Richardson, who took over as head coach last winter, praised the resilience of his players in a challenging season that has seen six out-of-contract players leave for pastures new.
Most striking was Nottinghamshire’s raid on New Road, which saw them sign England’s Josh Tongue, another quick in Dillon Pennington, as well as England Lions batsman Jack Haynes. Pat Brown has left for Derbyshire, Ben Cox for Leicestershire and Mitchell Stanley for Lancashire. Worcestershire are one of the smaller counties and do not have an indoor school, floodlights, or big budgets.
“It has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster at times with everything that’s gone on,” Richardson said. “But the lads in the squad have held themselves brilliantly well, have not been distracted and shown some remarkable resilience.
“It [players leaving] did have an impact, but the guys ensured the distraction side of it all had a minimal effect. It’s full credit to the players who are staying, but also the ones that are not going to be around, that they’ve all bought in and shown a lot of commitment and really put a shift in for us.
“These things can derail you, but I’m always someone who looks at things and thinks you can dwell on them, and you can let them make a negative impact, or you can turn them around and see it as another challenge.”
The task now is to stay up. Since promotion and relegation was introduced in 2000, this is Worcestershire’s seventh promotion to go with six relegations.
“If you look at the past, we have gone up and come back down, so the challenge is to go up and stay up at some point,” D’Oliveira said.
Surrey’s title party on hold
In Division One, if Essex fail to reach 400 in their first innings at Northampton, Surrey will be crowned champions for the second successive year. Essex are 125 for four going into day three, in response to relegated Northants’ 369. Even if they do reach 400 (securing four bonus points), Surrey will win the title if they do not lose against Hampshire, who lead by 13 runs with all 10 second-innings wickets in hand.
At the foot of the table, Kent and Middlesex are both rallying hard to save their top-flight status. Kent closed 345 for four, 18 in front of Lancashire and having picked up five points - and counting - from the game. Middlesex, who went into the round one point behind, have so far picked up three points against Nottinghamshire.