Worcestershire: Joe Leach's appointment as captain can inspire us, says Steve Rhodes
Worcestershire director of cricket Steve Rhodes fancies his side to have a good season following his decision to appoint Joe Leach as skipper.
Daryl Mitchell's removal as captain, to be replaced by his vice-captain Leach, came as a surprise when it was announced at the end of last season.
But Rhodes is convinced that Leach has the right leadership skills to help Worcestershire succeed this summer.
"Joe's got a lot of good qualities for captaincy," he told BBC Midlands Today.
"He's a good man manager, a motivational sort of guy. And I'm really looking forward to the new season, as I think we'll do well under Joe.
"Tactically, he'll learn and get better at it. But I do know that the more you do it, the easier it gets."
Worcestershire a good bet - Rhodes
Worcestershire once again start in Division Two in the County Championship, having finished third last season, when they and second-placed Kent lost out to Essex in the race to win the one promotion place to the restructured new eight-team Division One.
That leaves Rhodes' men in a reshuffled 10-team division, which includes relegated Nottinghamshire and Durham, chasing two promotion places again.
And, although they are unlikely to see much of England all-rounder Moeen Ali this summer, they do have a double dose of all-round international quality in the form of their two overseas signings, Australia's John Hastings and, for the T20 Blast only, New Zealand's Mitchell Santner.
Not to mention potential international stars of the future like Joe Clarke, already part of the England Lions set-up over the winter, and possibly also wicketkeeper Ben Cox.
"I did check out some of the betting markets, which surprised me," said Rhodes. "We're long odds and nobody seems to rate us.
"But that's a good position to be in, with nothing to lose and and it gives us a chance to prove a few people wrong.
"I've always liked being an underdog and it's generally worked well for Worcestershire, apart from the era in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when we had Ian Botham, Graham Dilley and Graeme Hick and were favourites for quite a while.
"But it would certainly be nice to surprise a few of these big clubs this summer."
Hastings ready for a battle
Rhodes is very pleased with the county's acquisition of Australia international all-rounder John Hastings, who is scheduled to be at New Road for the whole summer.
"Getting the right type of person is very important to us," said Rhodes. "It always has been. We take a lot of time and effort trying to get it right.
"He's a bloke we're very pleased to have in our dressing room, a good club man, like another Australian we had here Andy Bichel was before.
"It's so key to the dressing room. I have a saying I often use that it's about getting the right people for our bus and putting them in the right seats."
Hastings added: "I liked the feel of the club when I've come here in the past. They're well led by Steve Rhodes, who is the linchpin of the club.
"The reason I was so keen to come was because I liked the way they went about things in the game I've played against them for Durham and I can't wait to get going."
Rhodes not a fan of new system
Rhodes admits that he has concerns over the imbalance of a 14-game fixture list in Division Two, in which not all the 10 counties will now get the chance to test each other both home and away.
"The way they've chopped it up and reduced the number of games makes it a strange system, having 10 teams and only 14 games. But we'll give it a good crack," he said.
"We know the likes of Nottinghamshire are favourites. They've been a Division One team a long time.
"Durham will be strong, even with their 48-point deficit at the start of the season, and Kent will be tough. They proved it last year when they pipped us for second.
"But you can look at all the teams and their recruitment has been strong. There's a lot of foreigners coming in playing as locals and non-overseas players.
"That may enhance some of the quality of the cricket but it's not great for James Whitaker and the England selectors as it gives them less players to pick from."
Fell hopes to continue fight on the pitch
Worcestershire's 23-year-old batsman Tom Fell starts this season determined to bounce back to his form of 2015, when he reached the landmark of 1,000 Championship runs, before missing the opening half of the 2016 season following his battle against testicular cancer.
"Getting that 1,000 run mark and averaging 40 plus are the kind of standards I've got to set myself if I do want to go to the next level," he said.
"Last season was always a little bit of a write-off but there is still plenty of time in my career.
"I was considered for the England Development Programme and was fairly close although I never actually got onto that tour.
"And I was part of the ECB Scholarship going out to Perth so it was nice knowing I was in their minds for potentially going on a tour at some stage."