A fit and fresh Simon Jones will come back into Worcestershire’s side to face Gloucestershire in the Division Two match at Cheltenham today at the expense of all-rounder Gareth Andrew.
The Welshman was rested for the match against Middlesex at Lord’s last week where Vikram Solanki’s team registered their second successive ten-wicket victory and third in four matches.
It has been a rich run, one that has resulted in Worcestershire leapfrogging their rivals Warwickshire at the top of the points table.
Struggling Gloucestershire, who are second from bottom and without a win all season, are unlikely to cause too many problems if the visitors play near their potential, especially given the return of Jones and the form of Kabir Ali. “We are feeling confident,” Steve Rhodes, Worcestershire’s director of cricket, said last night.
“One of the best things about the win at Lord’s was that we managed to achieve it by not playing Simon Jones.
“He has had a bit of a rest from bowling and he’s now mentally ready to come back firing and carry on the good partnership that he and Kabir have formed this season.”
It is a partnership that has proved unplayable at times, with the pair sharing 80 first-class wickets this season.
Much to the bewilderment of Kabir - whose 44 wickets at 19 have not been deemed worthy enough for a place among England’s initial 30-strong squad assembled for the Champions Trophy - his figures are clearly not stating his case for selection loudly enough.
Rhodes shares the 27-year-old’s frustration, saying: “Yes, without a doubt [he is bowling well enough for an England call]. He has been in unbelievable form for us and even when he’s not in top form, he’s still performs well.
“That is the best way of describing the way Kabir has played this season and that’s why his wicket tally at the end of the year is always high.
“He picks up wickets when he is not on top of his game; at the moment, he is absolutely in top form but I can’t knock the selectors because it’s a tough job. If you look at the way the media has attacked them recently for the Darren Pattinson inclusion and now the Steve Harmison one, then you realise they can’t win.
“It’s a tough one: Pattinson was a surprise choice and everyone slagged them off for leaving out Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison; now they pick Harmison and they are still being criticised.
“When it comes down to Kabir’s omission from that [Champions Trophy] squad it can only be because his face doesn’t fit with the selectors, it’s as simple as that. I think they are wrong. He is at the peak of his form and he’s been excellent for us for several seasons.”
Gloucestershire versus Worcestershire could mean Kadeer Ali, brother of Worcestershire’s Moeen Ali and cousin of Kabir, could play against his old club as well as his close family members. He is expected to feature for the hosts after missing the previous fixture between the sides at New Road through injury.
His younger brother is also on the verge of making a return to county action after encouraging signs from the Birmingham League at the weekend, when Moeen’s long-awaited return to form showed some signs of promise with an unbeaten 164 (ten sixes, 12 fours) for West Bromwich Dartmouth against Shifnal.
It was exactly the sort of response Rhodes wanted to see after the 21-year-old dropped down to club cricket to find some touch. “We have been waiting for Mo to score runs all season, and so has he,” Rhodes said.
“We have kept telling him that there was a big score just around the corner and to make sure he made the opposition pay when it came. That’s what he did. To make 160-odd chasing 220 is impressive.”
Rhodes added: “We won’t be looking at this game as a family affair or anything like that. It’s just one of those games with cousins and brothers playing in the same game. Kadeer is just another wicket to us.”
Gloucestershire have announced that Alex Gidman has signed a new three-year contract. The 27-year-old right-handed batsman is looking forward to playing under incoming coach John Bracewell, who is returning after a spell in charge of New Zealand. Gidman said “I am very pleased to have signed a new contract with the club, I am very excited about working with John Bracewell again.”
* Jimmy Anyon, the pace bowler, has his first match following an ankle injury in the three-day Second XI Championship fixture against Northamptonshire starting at Wantage Road today. Richard Johnson, the wicketkeeper, and Calum Macleod, also return after injury, while Jonathan Webb, a member of the club’s Academy, is selected.