Joe Clarke is relishing the prospect of a return to playing Specsavers County Championship Division One cricket this summer after making his Worcestershire CCC debut in the top flight three years ago.
Clarke earned his chance after scoring a double century for the Seconds at Cheltenham early in the 2015 campaign – and has not looked back.
He believes having to deal with the demands of Division One at the start of his senior career has stood him in good stead.
A maiden ton against visiting Sussex followed before the end of that promising breakthrough season.
Clarke has been a first team regular ever since, has three successive winters with the England Lions under his belt and a first senior appearance for his country in a warm-up match against a Cricket Australia X1 in early December.
The 21-year-old returns this week to Blackfinch New Road on the crest of a wave after being voted man of the series in the North versus South Series in Barbados with scores of 46, 71 and 112.
Clarke, who is to play against Leeds-Bradford MCCU at RGS Worcester from Sunday, said: “It helped me being thrown in and having to find a way to cope with that standard of cricket.
“I enjoyed the challenge of getting to grips with that challenge straight away. The quality of the cricket is more consistent at that level.
“I got my first hundred against Sussex and when you get that first hundred it makes you realise you can do it (at that level).
“I’d had a few 70s and 80s and to get that monkey of my back made it a whole lot easier to get more.”
Worcestershire were only a few points away from staying up three years ago and Clarke has faith in the current squad as they prepare for the challenges ahead.
He said: “All the lads will look forward to the opposition you play in Division One. We came close to staying up three years ago and we now have a far more settled side than the last time.
“Some of the lads also have a lot more experience under their belts. People like myself, Tom Fell, Joe Leach, Ed Barnard, Ben Cox had a taste of it for the first time that season.
“We have got Daryl Mitchell who was phenomenal with the bat last summer, Joe Leach who has been incredible with the ball, Ed Barnard who has come into his own, plus fresh talent like Josh Tongue who will be eager to show the best batters in the country what he can do.
“People like Tom Fell and Dolly (Brett D’Oliveira) also have bags of ability to score runs in Division One as well.
“The season in Division One is massive and we have players with the mentality not just to stay up but to compete in the top part of that division.”
Clarke is keen to improve on his red ball run tally of last summer when the County launch their programme against Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl – the fixture in which he made his senior debut.
He said: “I would have liked a few more runs, a few more hundreds, it was a quiet season for me in red ball stuff personally.
“I contributed to wins with runs but would have liked to have kept up with Daryl Mitchell and get to where he got to.
“The benchmark for 2018 is 1,000 and who knows where it can take you to if you get on a role like Mitch and then who knows where the run tally can get to.”