Homegrown talent: Worcestershire's not-so-secret sauce

Paul Edwards5 Minute Read

Sharp explains value of Worcestershire youth policy

Worcestershire head coach Kevin Sharp talks about the importance of the club bringing through their own talent

Cricket is a family affair at Worcestershire. Other counties hope to create a similar atmosphere but few come near to the intimacy achieved at New Road and that closeness will be apparent even in the mayhem of Saturday's Vitality Blast quarter-final against Gloucestershire. The supporters know the players and the bonds between the two groups remain strong in fair or foul weather.

So imagine the trauma at the club when the long-serving Steve Rhodes left abruptly in the close season. Suddenly someone had to be found to take over as head coach and that person would be in charge of some of the most exciting young talents in the country. The club did not advertise the post but still received unsolicited applications from around the world. They appointed the second-team coach, Kevin Sharp. It was so like them.

"I wasn't expecting it," said Sharp and he chuckles hugely at the vagaries of life's dice. "My concern was that the club should get the right person because it was a sensitive time. The next thing I knew I was being asked to do the job. I've always sat in the middle of a club at Yorkshire or Worcestershire, where I've been either second-team coach or batting coach. Many years ago I took the first team at Yorkshire for a while but I hadn't had the day-in, day-out experiences of managing at first-team level. But Worcestershire asked me to do it and it was a great honour and privilege."

Inevitably, Sharp put his own stamp on the job but continuity was also important. Rhodes was the only coach the vast majority of the Worcestershire players had known and there had been other changes made in the backroom staff, with Alan Richardson taking over from Matt Mason as bowling coach. In the early days, players probably needed reassurance as much as technical advice.

Worcestershire are very passionate about developing their own players and giving them opportunities. And they are adept at recruiting from nearby minor counties. For example, the Shropshire-Worcestershire link has resulted in allrounder Ed Barnard and batsman Joe Clarke (345 runs in this year's Blast) arriving at New Road in addition to the current club captain, Joe Leach, the very promising fast bowler, Dillon Pennington, and the recently retired Jack Shantry. The Salopian ghetto is a powerful influence at the club and will be to the fore on Saturday.

"I've grown up with these lads and it's great to be playing professional cricket with them," Barnard said. "Hopefully, it'll be 'Rocket New Road' against Gloucestershire and we can get to the Finals Day for the first time."

Sharp shares the passion of his young charges but he recognises that the foundations for the county's successes were laid not just by Rhodes but also Damian D'Oliveira, the late Academy director.

"The lads who are in charge now are honouring that legacy," Sharp said. "We have a fine Academy run by Elliot Wilson. But you also want to be competitive and so recruitment is very important as well in order that we achieve the standards we require. I'm doing it my way and working with the other coaches. We're evolving every day but as soon as I saw Alan and Alex [Gidman, the second team coach] working together I wanted to give them responsibility for organising the white-ball teams and they have done that. It was a no-brainer to let these lads have more responsibility and they have done a fantastic job. I feel very blessed in the coaching staff we have. And we must have done something right because we were two balls away from Lord's and we topped both white-ball groups."

Pat Brown has had a prolific Blast season with the ballGetty Images

Nearly but not quite. It is a phrase guaranteed to irritate the most genial of supporters at Worcestershire, the only county not yet to have appeared at T20 Finals Day. That could soon change, when some of the most experienced young cricketers in the country take on Gloucestershire. For it is no good hanging the "young and talented" tag around the necks of players who know what it is like to win titles and know what relegation tastes like too.

"Although the team is relatively young in age, there's a lot of experience there in people like Ben Cox, Ed Barnard, Brett D'Oliveira and Joe Clarke," Sharp said. "They've played a lot of first-team cricket and they're ready to take on responsibilities."

And one of the beauties of the Blast is that it gives opportunities to players who are then more confident when given chances in red-ball games. The prime example of this at Worcestershire is 20-year-old Pat Brown, who has taken 27 wickets in this year's competition, four more than anyone else, and whose subtle variations flummoxed some of the best batsmen in the North Group. Brown is a Peterborough lad who played his cricket at Market Deeping CC and with Huntingdonshire before making his Worcestershire Under-19s debut in 2015.

"Pat hasn't played a massive amount of first-team cricket but injuries have given opportunities to players and he is developing in leaps and bounds," Sharp said. "He's a smart bowler. He's got different deliveries which he disguises very well, he's very accurate and batters have found him a handful."

Ultimately, though, the sides which prosper in T20 cricket are those in which clarity of role is yoked to skill and a little bit of good fortune. Another defeat in the group stages and Worcestershire would have faced a much less pleasant itinerary after their Championship victory at Scarborough.

"I'm so pleased we got a home tie because it would have been a lot of travelling to go from there to Kent for a game on Thursday," Sharp said. "There'll be a good crowd on Saturday and we'll never have a better chance. It would be a wonderful thing for the club if we could get through."