Steve Rhodes: Worcestershire boss labels 'one team up' change a 'gut-wrenching blow'

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One promotion place 'tough' on Worcester

Worcestershire director of cricket Steve Rhodes says that only having one team promoted from Division Two in the County Championship this summer will make his side's task even tougher.

Seven months after being relegated from Division One, Rhodes' side are rated second favourites behind Sussex to go straight back up again.

He told BBC Sport: "Having one team go up makes life more complicated.

"The Division Two teams have had the mat wiped from under our own feet."

Ups and downs

New Road looking unflooded and ready for its 118th summer of first-class cricket
New Road looking unflooded and ready for its 118th summer of first-class cricket

Worcestershire are the ultimate yo-yo club in the County Championship and start start the 2016 campaign back in Division Two, where they started when two-tier-cricket first came in for the 2000 season.

In that time, they have won promotion five times - and been relegated five times.

The bounced back at the first attempt in 2008 and 2010, but with only one promotion place now available, the odds have lengthened on them doing it a third time.

Of their five promotions, Worcestershire only once went up as Division Two champions in 2003.

"In the past, you could come with a late run and sneak into the second spot. I get where they're coming from in only having one team promoted. But it's quite a gut-wrenching blow to suddenly have something taken away from you," Rhodes told BBC Midlands Today.

"We'll just have to make sure we come top," said the county's new vice-captain Joe Leach. "And we've certainly got the talent and the ability in the squad to do that."

Although they recognise the need for a good start, Worcestershire have not won their opening Championship fixture of the season since 2011. And there is a grim weather forecast for the opening weekend of the season, ahead of Sunday's start of their home game with Kent.

Playing staff changes

Daryl Mitchell
Daryl Mitchell will hope to improve this summer on the 832 first-class runs he scored in 2015

Worcestershire's key changes for the 2016 season are in their overseas player department.

New Zealander Matt Henry, who appeared in all three international formats during 2015, will be at New Road for the first part of the summer until South Africa Test fast bowler Kyle Abbott arrives.

Henry will be joined for the T20 Blast another Kiwi, spinner Mitch Santner, who was part of the New Zealand team which reached the World T20 semi-finals.

England's World T20 finalist Moeen Ali will be available, following a short holiday, for three of their first four Championship fixtures, prior to the Test series with Sri Lanka.

But that early season bonus is counterbalanced by the loss of three batsmen.

Alex Gidman was forced to retire because of complications with a badly broken finger, while Richard Oliver turned down a new contract offer, which would have committed him to winter training in Worcestershire, preferring instead to play grade cricket in Australia for his adopted club side Geelong.

They will also start the season without Tom Fell, their only player to make 1,000 Championship runs last summer. He is unlikely to be seen until mid-summer as he undergoes three courses of chemotherapy in his battle against cancer.

But they have high hopes for England Lions winter tourist Joe Clarke, who starts the season still a month short of his 20th birthday, while Brett D'Oliveira may remain as opener alongside skipper Daryl Mitchell, just as he finished last season.

D'Oliveira, along with the county's other England Lions winter tourist Ross Whiteley, also takes over spinning responsibilities following the departure prior to the end of last season of Saeed Ajmal, who proved such a disappointment following his change of bowling action.

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