Worcestershire have received a significant boost with the news that Kabir Ali and Gareth Batty have signed contract extensions that will keep them at the club until the end of the 2010 season.
Not only were the pair the club's highest wicket-takers in 2007 but both are just approaching their peak as players. Batty is aged 30 and Kabir is 26.
Although neither man was out of contract until the end of 2008, both were beginning to attract the interest of a host of other counties. As top English players who are just out of the national set-up, they can be expected to play full county seasons and are, therefore, particularly valuable.
Swing bowler Kabir, in particular, was already the subject of jealous glances from a couple of the richest counties in the game. With one of the best first-class strike rates (46) of any current player (by comparison, Malcolm Marshall and Richard Hadlee's were 45), he could almost have chosen his team -and salary - at will.
That he has chosen to remain at New Road says much about the man and the club. Worcestershire retained a good team spirit throughout their trials and tribulations last season and have gained a reputation as a club that treats its players well. Kabir, who remains desperately keen to play more international cricket, is happy at New Road and keen to underline his loyalty to the club.
All-rounder Batty, meanwhile, is viewed as the side's future captain. He deputised in Vikram Solanki's absence in 2007 and played a key role in leading a young side to success in the Pro-40 League. Though he found few pitches that encouraged his off-spin last season he remains in the national selectors' thoughts and retains hopes of an England recall.
"The club now has a squad of 18 fully-contracted players for 2008 with an overseas player still to be signed, " Worcestershire's chief executive, Mark Newton, said. "We are proud of the fact that 17 of these players are eligible to play for England.
"The 18th player, 17-year-old Alexei Kervezee, is playing regularly for Holland. We have openly stated we would prefer not to go down the Kolpak route, although we would never rule it out completely."
Meanwhile, Nadeem Malik is in talks with Leicestershire. The 25-year-old seamer, who is contracted to Worcestershire for another year, was told he was free to talk to other counties after a disappointing season.
* Former England coach Duncan Fletcher will be signing copies of his autobiography, Behind The Shades, in Birmingham today. He will be at Borders in the Bullring between 1pm and 2pm and in the shop at Edgbaston between 6pm and 8pm.