KIDDERMINSTER (first day of four): Hampshire 349-5 v Worcestershire
Relegated they may be, but Worcestershire will not compromise their beliefs in their attempt to bounce straight back to Division One of the County Championship.
While admitting that the search for new fast bowlers was his priority, the club's director of cricket, Steve Rhodes, reiterated his view that Worcestershire will not follow the path of the majority of other counties and embrace the world of Kolpak cricketers.
"I'm still trying to avoid Kolpak signings," Rhodes said. "It's a case of right and wrong, as far as I'm concerned; a moral belief that it's not the right route for the club to take.
"If I feel we can't compete with other teams, then I may revise my view but I guess I'm a typically stubborn Yorkshireman and I have a belief about what is right for English cricket.
"Kolpak players seem to expect fringe benefits that we wouldn't think of giving to local players. They want flights, a car and accommodation and it just doesn't seem fair. Besides, there are too many average Kolpak players around."
It was a lack of bowling strength that again cost Worcestershire yesterday, however. Having lost the toss for the tenth time out of 13 this season, they were sentenced to another tough day on a flat wicket.
They stuck to their task pretty well - albeit without much belief - but it says much that of the five wickets to fall, two came from run-outs, two from catches to the outfield and one to a catch down the leg side. The bowlers couldn't really claim credit for any of them. It doesn't take a genius to understand where they need to strengthen before next season.
"We need to have seven bowlers on the staff that we can throw the ball at and expect them to do a reliable job for us," Rhodes said. "We know that we have lacked the depth that sides like Yorkshire and Durham have and we know that has left us vulnerable.
"The disappointment is that our fringe players have had lovely opportunities this year, but they've failed to grasp them."
Rhodes has high hopes of 20-year-old Richard Jones - "he bowls wicket-taking balls but needs consistency" - but knows that new faces are required. As things stand, Worcestershire have made only one official approach and that is to Lancashire's Oliver Newby. All indications suggest he will remain at Old Trafford.
"We know we need some bowlers," Rhodes said. "I'm working very hard on that issue, though there aren't many around. Kabir Ali has shouldered the full burden this season and it's not surprising that he has run out of steam a bit.
"Our overseas bowler - Doug Bollinger - would be the first to admit that he had a disappointing season. I can't fault his attitude, but he maybe let down those who recommended him to us.
"I still feel our batting is strong. There have been times when we've been bowled out too easily this season, but our batsmen have been batting under pressure. I also feel that the young batters on the staff - the likes of Daryl Mitchell and Moeen Ali - can cope at this level."
Matt Mason has certainly been missed. The rangy seamer underwent a second shoulder operation on Monday, which revealed "quite a lot of damage," in Rhodes' words. Mason's quality and good intentions are not in question, but there must be some doubt as to how much the club can rely on a 33-year-old with a history of injury problems.
Hampshire certainly had little trouble negotiating the Worcestershire attack yesterday. Michael Brown and Michael Carberry posted 111 for the first wicket, before Jimmy Adams helped Carberry add 142 for the second - Hampshire's highest stand of the entire season.
Brown, responding to Carberry's call, eventually fell to a direct hit from Mitchell at cover, while Adams spooned a leading edge to mid-off. John Crawley was run out when Ben Smith brilliantly stopped his late cut at slip and beat the batsman's attempts to reclaim his ground, while Carberry brushed a ball heading down the leg side to fall for 127 (248 balls, 20 fours). Nic Pothas was last to go, heaving to mid-off in an attempt to up the pace.
From 253 for one, Worcestershire will feel they struck back well. By taking four for 47 they at least gained a foothold in the game. Roger Sillence bowled as well as anyone, though the lack of penetration was painful.
Reflecting on the season as a whole, Rhodes said: "We got off to a bad start. Then, just as we showed signs of coming out of that bad run, the Twenty20 period came and then the floods. That left us with eight points out of a possible 44. A gap developed and I think it killed morale. "But whatever problems we've had, I've not heard one moan from a player all season. I take my hat off to them. We're in a good situation to claim our first silverware since 1994 which, without playing a game at home, I think is a tremendous achievement."
Worcestershire have received some more encouraging news of late, however. The England & Wales Cricket Board's new deal with ESPN for overseas television right is likely to generate almost £1 million extra revenue to every county club over the next five years. With costs from the flood having now passed £550,000, every penny will be gratefully received at New Road.
The club have decided to put off any talk about ground development until September 2008, however. It was originally hoped that work would begin this autumn.