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‘Incredibly tough’: Worcestershire take to field a week after Josh Baker’s death
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‘Incredibly tough’: Worcestershire take to field a week after Josh Baker’s death

Worcestershire resume their season against Kent at Canterbury on Friday, barely a week since the tragic death of their young spinner Josh Baker. The Pears were already among the most resilient of counties – annual floods at New Road, thin resources, often losing their brightest talents to rivals – but this trait is being tested like never before.

“Guys are still trying to process it,” says Alan Richardson, the head coach now trying to shepherd his flock through the worst of times. “A lot of them have never experienced grief before. There is still shock and a lot of sadness that will keep coming to the surface as we hit different milestones along the way.”

The first of these came on Tuesday, Worcestershire’s players resuming training at New Road – flood waters now receded – just five days after Baker, 20, died unexpectedly. His parents, Paul and Lisa, also attended the nets to spend time with their son’s friends and teammates, despite their own unimaginable pain.

It was an optional session, needless to say, made more difficult when testers from anti-doping authorities unfortunately arrived on site. Selection for this fifth game of the Division One season against Kent was also left to players to decide if they could return to action so soon but to a man they have put their hands up to play on in the memory of their teammate, with any pressure to perform lifted.

Richardson says: “It was incredibly tough being back in the week. As soon as you went into the dressing room and saw Josh’s locker, you just expected him to be there. He was a really special person: talented, competitive, stubborn and very, very funny. Half an hour sitting with Josh on the balcony at New Road was always entertaining.

“The lads were so appreciative of Paul and Lisa coming to our first session back. They have been huge supporters of Josh and the club. And the response from the cricket community, both nationally and internationally, just shows how close it can be. The tributes that have come in have been a huge comfort for us and his family.

“There’s no expectation on any of the players and staff right now; training has been optional, selection optional, and if guys weren’t ready that was fine. We have told them it’s OK to be nervous or scared about what feelings might come on the field. We will all take it at our own pace and guys will react differently.”

As Richardson puts it, Baker had packed so much into his young cricketing life, becoming part of the furniture at the club after rising through the academy ranks and making his first-class debut at the age of 18. Capped by England at under-19 level, there was the promise of more to come.

“Josh would have been about 16 when I first met him,” says Richardson. “It was an academy session in Evesham, although he wasn’t part of the academy then, and I saw this left-arm spinner who was very accurate and bowled with good pace. You could see there was something there to work with.

“But what I really noticed was around six months later when he took time out of school to come and bowl at the first team pros. He had a real sparkle in his eye this time, as if the harder the challenge, the more he relished it. Who knows what was to follow but he had real strength and ability with the ball, caught pigeons at slip and was an aspiring batter who could have turned himself into a No 7 in time.”

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As well as 43 first-class wickets, the last of those talents had already come to the fore, Richardson recalling an “incredible” unbeaten 61 on a “cabbage patch” at Lord’s as a teenager in that first season, in 2021. There was also his precious 75 against Gloucestershire during last year’s promotion campaign, as one half of a match-turning, possibly season-defining 141-run stand with Brett D’Oliveira, the captain.

Josh Baker batting in a Twenty20 game for WorcestershireView image in fullscreen

It was Baker who hit the runs that secured their ascent to Division One during the final game at Headingley, an honour he said should have been D’Oliveira’s, given his family connection to the club. “That was very Josh,” says Richardson. “He was very level and understated at times. But I’m really glad it was him; an academy product who was incredibly passionate about his cricket and playing for Worcestershire. He would do whatever was needed for the team.”

To that end, the team will honour Baker’s memory by wearing his squad number, 33, on their shirts for the remainder of the season. “The idea came from the lads and it is positioned close to our heart to show that Josh remains there,” adds Richardson, his players about to return to the field. “We will always be thinking of him.”

Source: theguardian.com