Worcestershire v Yorkshire: Moeen Ali to play in season opener

Worcestershire's pre-season photocall
Moeen Ali, pictured at the county's annual hotocall, is starting his ninth season with Worcestershire

Moeen Ali will play in Worcestershire's County Championship opener against Yorkshire, starting this Sunday.

The England all-rounder, 27, has recovered from the abdominal strain he suffered during the World Cup.

Batting at three, he will use the county's first game of the season as a warm-up before joining the Test squad in the Caribbean for the second and third Tests against West Indies.

Champions Yorkshire will be without six players on the Windies tour.

Opener Adam Lyth, fellow batsmen Gary Ballance and Joe Root, wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow, spinner Adil Rashid and paceman Liam Plunkett are all in the Caribbean.

Worcetershire's signings for 2015
Alex Gidman (Gloucestershire), Colin Munro (New Zealand, for T20), Sachithra Senanayake (Sri Lanka, for early part of season), Saeed Ajmal (Pakistan, for second half of season)

The Tykes will also be without county captain Andrew Gale, who completes last season's two-game suspension.

"It's a fantastic time to play Yorkshire," said Worcestershire director of cricket Steve Rhodes, who will give a county debut to their main winter signing Alex Gidman, from Gloucestershire.

"But they'll still be a tough nut to crack. They showed last year what a quality outfit they are.

"The challenge for Worcestershire is fantastic. It's a great opportunity for some of our unknown stars. It's going to be tough to try to maintain our status in the division. But we have a very young side, who are getting better. If they keep improving, we've got a chance."

Captain Daryl Mitchell, now into his 11th campaign as a county cricketer, adds: "We've got batsmen who can hit hundreds and we've got bowlers who can take five wickets.

Sri Lanka spinner Sachithra Senanayake
Sri Lanka spinner Sachithra Senanayake is due to fly in on Saturday, in time to play on Sunday

"I'm sure we'll be written off by everyone but, once we've got Saeed Ajmal back, who knows?"

Worcestershire will have to wait until mid-summer before bringing in Ajmal, so often their matchwinner last season, although now with a remodelled action. But they hope that Sri Lankan Sachithra Senanayake will prove a successful short-term replacement.

The county have now enjoyed promotion to the top flight five times since going up to Division One for the first time in 2003.

The main aim is to prevent a fifth relegation back to Division Two. And Rhodes approaches the task ahead with his typical sense of humour.

"Some of these sides in Division One have got twice our budget," he added, "so a little lad like Worcester. There's no hope for us is there? We're tipped to finish bottom again, aren't we?