Graeme Hick did not take long to find his touch as Worcestershire got their pre-season preparations off to an encouraging start at Chelmsford.

Hick, about to start his 22nd season at New Road, topscored with 71 out of 251 for four in the county's first oneday friendly against Essex.

Hick, who turns 40 next month, was supported by Ben Smith, last summer's leading Worcestershire run-scorer reaching 67, and Daryl Mitchell, who scored 44.

Although the result was immaterial, Worcestershire's efforts proved in vain when Essex skipper Ronnie Irani scored an unbeaten 140 to see his side win off the last ball with three wickets to spare.

Worcestershire director of cricket Steve Rhodes is backing Hick to bounce back from the disappointments of 2005. Hick endured one of the leanest spells of his career with only 911 championship runs at an average of 35.

Rhodes said: "You see Sachin Tendulkar has struggled a bit recently, so you think 'Crikey, it really does happen to everyone'.

"There are low points in everyone's career and Graeme suffered last season. He has had low points in the past as well and a low run of scores, but he has always come out of that with big runs.

"We always used to say to him 'Don't worry, someone will pay for this', and inevitably somebody did. He has worked hard this winter technically on his game and at the moment he is looking good. I am forecasting a good season for him.

"He's not said it is going to be his last year. It is the last year of his contract, but Graeme loves playing and loves scoring runs.

"If he does well enough to ensure another contract and we really do see the value out of him, that will be great. But the ball is in Graeme's court. He knows he needs to score big runs and no-one will be trying more than he will."

Worcestershire wicketkeeper Steven Davies is in the MCC team for next week's annual curtain-raiser with county champions, Nottinghamshire, at Lord's.