New signing Riki Wessels has quickly settled into life with his new Worcestershire team-mates and is looking forward with relish to the 2019 season.
Wessels has signed a three year contract with the County after ending an eight season association with Nottinghamshire.
It was a considerable coup for Worcestershire to sign a player of star quality in all formats of the game.
Now Wessels is targeting more white ball success for Worcestershire and to help them become established in Division One of the Specsavers County Championship.
But Wessels is also keen to impart the huge amount of knowledge and cricketing know-how he has acquired over many years as a top notch player to the squad at Blackfinch New Road.
Here the 33-year-old looks back and forward in a Question and Answer Session with the Worcestershire CCC website.
Question: Riki, welcome to Worcestershire, have you settled in pretty well so far?
Riki Wessels: “It has been nice, a couple of days a week down with the lads, getting used to the routine and getting to know the guys a bit better other than from playing against them.”
Question: How did the opportunity come about to join Worcestershire?
Riki Wessels: “Worcester is a place that I have always enjoyed playing at. When I was at Nottinghamshire, it was my favourite ground outside of Trent Bridge.
“It has beaten off some stiff competition there with Lord’s and those sort of places. It is a ground I’ve always liked. I’ve enjoyed playing there – difficult at times but it’s been nice.
“I needed a change and I thought this was the best time to do it. I’m 33 and instead of hanging on too long somewhere else, try and revive myself and enjoy my cricket a bit more.”
Question: Is it a good time of your career, aged 33, to kick on somewhere else?
Riki Wessels: “Yes, that and maybe sort of imparting what I’ve learnt over the last 15 years of playing as well.
“Worcestershire are a young bunch of guys. I’ve always felt they are a side that has been pushing, have been there or thereabouts.
“I was rooting for them on (Vitality Blast) finals day. I think they were the underdogs so it was nice to see them come out and win.
“I’ve played against them for quite a few years and, as well as it being time for me to kick on, I think it’s time for them to kick on and start producing what they are capable of doing.”
Question: Do you think your experience might help them?
Riki Wessels: “I’d like to think I’ve got some stuff that I can share with them and push them a bit and challenge them to try and change a few things and maybe get a bit better and, along with that, bring success to the club.”
Question: There seems more experience in the team now with yourself, Callum Ferguson, Wayne Parnell, Daryl Mitchell etc. It’s getting a nice balance?
Riki Wessels: “I think so. In years gone Mitch at times has been the lone hand amongst the older guys in addition to bringing in overseas players here and there and, unfortunately with the way overseas players work, it’s never normally for more than five or six weeks at a time.
“But having a few older guys around for a longer period of time might also help to build the squad, mature the squad in a certain way so we look forward to competing across all three formats.”
Question: Is coaching something you would like to get into when you finish playing?
Riki Wessels: “I wouldn’t say so much coaching but I do like imparting different pieces of info I’ve learnt over the years, not so much in a coaching role but as a friend or a mentor in a helpful way. Just sharing what I’ve learnt.”
Question: You’ve had a great and successful career over the last decade and a half. You have acquired an enormous amount of knowledge from the places you have played?
Riki Wessels: “It has helped where I’ve played and with who I’ve played as well. Those first few years in the Notts changing room I had Andre Adams who was unbelievable and tough, Dave Hussey, Adam Voges, those sort of guys.
“Coming into that sort of environment and listening to how they speak, it is different and a different way of learning and that has really helped me a lot.
“Did it toughen you up? It had to. Andre Adams was very tough. He let you know exactly how he felt when he felt it!
“When you are younger it probably doesn’t always feel great but looking back it is probably what was needed.”
Question: You’ve played in so many tournaments around the world. You must have learnt so much from those?
Riki Wessels: “You sort of arrive just before the tournaments start and then you are straight into it so you learn more as you go through these tournaments.
“You try and take on board what you have learnt if you go back to the same tournaments but in short periods of time it is quite difficult to adjust and learn.
“But everyone is in the same boat when you go to those tournaments so you learn and adapt and you grow.”
Question: Last summer, everyone saw what you could do when at Blackfinch New Road you hit nine sixes in your 55 in a T20 game?
Riki Wessels: The last couple of years Worcestershire have caught me on bad days where I’ve been a bit grumpy and they’ve caught the back end of it!
“Hopefully in the next two or three years I can return the favour and damage somebody else. I guess that game last year was one of those surreal days.”
Question: The Vitality Blast triumph, did you watch that closely?
Riki Wessels: “I think at the time I was a bit upset that we weren’t there at Nottinghamshire because when you are playing you want to be at those finals days because they are massive, such a big thing.
“Having spent time playing against Worcestershire over the years, it was quite nice to see that (triumph).
“What I don’t think people realise is the closeness of such a young, smallish squad of players compared to Test grounds and international players and that sort of stuff.
“I don’t think you can quantify how massive it really was for them to win that trophy.
“I was following closely. Woody (Luke Wood) was playing for Worcestershire on loan from Notts and it was nice to see how he was doing. I followed it closely.”
Question: Did you speak to Luke Wood before you signed for Worcestershire and did he give you positive feedback?
Riki Wessels: “Brief conversations. I think I drove down to Southampton with him when Worcestershire were playing at Scarborough.
“He seemed happy. Andy Carter was another person I spoke to and obviously Parny (Wayne Parnell) having known him for quite a few years.
“I had in my mind when I thought about leaving Notts that Worcestershire was the first place I really wanted to come.
“It wasn’t so much from talking to anyone but it was in my head already before I thought about anything else.”
Question: Was it a tough decision to leave Nottinghamshire after so many years?
Riki Wessels: It is probably one of the hardest decisions I had to make. Both my kids were born in Notts. I met my wife in Notts. The house is there. Getting back into county cricket was there. From 2011 through to last year everything had been about that.
“I still had two years left of my contract. I could have stayed and drifted through – or alternatively make the decision to leave and go and test myself a bit. It’s a different set-up to Nottinghamshire but at the same time it’s quite exciting.
“It excited me when I decided to leave and join Worcestershire – and it still does now.”
Question: After the white ball success of the last two seasons, there is a belief that Worcestershire are no longer underdogs?
Riki Wessels: “You play your best cricket when no-one is expecting you to. I think you play better when you have got something to fight for.
“If you expect to win, you can not put in the effort you probably need to do.
“The mentality of the group of players, having fought through the last two years to not be the underdog, has given them the strength to play the cricket they have done.”
Question: You have also got a great record in red ball cricket over the years and Worcestershire will be looking to you to strengthen the middle order?
Riki Wessels: “That was another important factor when signing. It would have been quite easy just to sign a white ball contract somewhere and crack on with life.
“But red ball cricket is still very much a passion of mine. I think four days of hard graft to get the result, batting two or three sessions to get hundreds, is still a massive part of the game and needs to be done.
“For me, it is still something in cricket I treasure quite dearly as opposed to white ball cricket.
“But hopefully I can help Worcestershire to get back into Division One – and then to stay in Division One for a period of time.
“It won’t be a case of getting promotion and then winning the Championship (straight away) but building for year after year, through the three years of my contract, would be a real goal of mine.”
Question: With people like yourself and Callum Ferguson coming into the batting line-up, there are a lot of good players now competing for places?
Riki Wessels: “That is a big thing and I wouldn’t under-estimate some of the young guys coming through.
“For example, Milts (Alex Milton) got his first hundred last year.
“You want them to not feel frightened (by the challenges) and flourish at the same time around older, more experienced guys.
“That is the environment I definitely feel at the moment. There are no ulterior motives. The team, everyone is trying to push for the same goal, which is great.”
Question: Does your father (Kepler) still take a very keen interest in your career? Can we expect to see him at Blackfinch New Road this summer?
Riki Wessels: “He generally comes over December time for my daughter’s birthday. We have a very interesting cricket relationship. We definitely don’t play the same way and definitely will never play the same way!
“That is probably a bit difficult for him at times when I play a bit recklessly and bash balls over the bowler’s head.
“I think he appreciates the different style and different character of player and person that we are.
“He could bat for days. If you wanted someone to bat for your life, he was probably the man.”