ALEX Gidman wants Worcestershire Rapids to embrace the mantle of Vitality Blast holders when they launch their title defence with two games in less than 24 hours.

The first-team coach says Rapids’ “white-ball confidence is high” as they make the swap to T20 mode after a disappointing run of results in County Championship Division Two.

First on the agenda on Thursday is a clash at 2017 champions Notts Outlaws, televised live on Sky Sports at 7pm, followed by a sold-out derby with Birmingham Bears at Blackfinch New Road on Friday (5.15pm).

Gidman said: “Does being champions add to the pressure? Certainly not. We’ve got to embrace the fact and enjoy what we achieved last year.

“I want the lads to enjoy being champions and try our utmost to get there again. Nothing would please me or the lads more than to replicate what we achieved last year.

“We should not be scared to talk about it. It is certainly nothing to be scared of. We are a very good white-ball team.

“We reached the quarter-finals of the 50-over competition (Royal London One-Day Cup) where we lost to the eventual winners (Somerset) who played very well against us.

“Our white-ball confidence is high even though we haven’t played a (T20) game yet and I know the lads are itching to get going.”

Worcestershire have not won in seven Championship matches and Gidman admitted: “The T20 has come at a good time for us.

“The lads are excited about the competition now but at the same time they are hurting (because of the Championship) so I think it is a good time for it.

“But we have also got to recognise we’ve got another Championship game at Cheltenham on Sunday (against Gloucestershire) so the competitions are coming around thick and fast.”

Gidman says it will be “inspiring” to have Vitality Blast-winning captain Moeen Ali back in the side at Trent Bridge after England’s ICC World Cup heroics.

Moeen played in five of England’s matches in the tournament and in completing 100 ODI appearances has been a key member of the side rebuilt since the 2015 World Cup failure.

He will make his first appearance of the summer for the County at Outlaws.

Gidman, who played alongside Moeen during the 2015 season, said: “Mo is a hugely-popular member of the team and club and it is quite inspiring to have him back after what he has been through over the last few weeks.

“Everyone will be keen to see him but also probably to hear him talk a little about the last few weeks and give the guys a bit of a boost after what has been a tough couple of weeks.

“Mo first and foremost loves playing cricket and I’m sure he is looking forward to playing for us and at the same time riding on the high of what he has been through.

“T20 in this country is pretty big. It is obviously not as close as it is to a Word Cup but in terms of playing at Trent Bridge in front of pretty much a full house and then the local derby the next day they are two really good games for him to come into and two good games for us as a group to start the campaign with.

“I’m sure he is absolutely buzzing, and quite rightly so and that’s energy the rest of the team can feed off.”

Ross Whiteley needs just five more sixes to clock up 100 in T20 cricket for Rapids.

The all-rounder has cleared the boundary 95 times since joining the County midway through the 2013 season.

Whiteley has been the County’s leading six-hitter in three of his five full campaigns.

The Sheffield-born player finished as runner-up in the other two campaigns.

Three sixes in his two T20 appearances in 2013 was just the start of Whiteley’s big-hitting exploits.

The following season saw 16 maximums to finish two ahead of New Zealander Colin Munro.

In 2015 Whiteley was the joint T20 six-hitter in the country alongside West Indies star Chris Gayle on 29 including 11 against Yorkshire at Headingley.

The 30-year-old again topped Rapids’ six-hitting charts in 2016 on 15 alongside Tom Kohler-Cadmore.

A further 18 sixes followed in 2017, one less than Joe Clarke, and included six sixes in an over from Yorkshire spinner Karl Carver at Headingley.

It was the first time an Englishman had achieved that feat and helped earn Whiteley T20 franchise contracts that winter.

Last summer Whiteley achieved 15 maximums, a figure only surpassed by Blast captain Moeen Ali (18).

Gidman has announced a 13-strong squad for the opening two fixtures including New Zealander Martin Guptill who figured in his nation’s World Cup final loss to England.

Worcestershire: Guptill, Wessels, Moeen, Ferguson, D’Oliveira, Cox, Whiteley, Barnard, Parnell, Mitchell, Brown, Pennington, Finch.