Worcestershire captain Joe Leach says the players are “yearning” for a return to action as soon as it is safe to do so after a full-on winter programme –  as he paid tribute to the “wonderful NHS and all other key workers” in the battle against the coronavirus.

The all-rounder and his team-mates had been due to play at Lord’s for the first time in several years in their opening County Championship match against Middlesex before the pandemic led to a delay to the 2020 campaign until at least the end of May.

It comes after a close season in which the players have put much more focus on red-ball skills from early November for a five-month period in the aftermath of a disappointing summer in which they finished eighth in Division Two. 

Leach, who is approaching his fourth season as skipper, said: “It is really strange to think that this week we should have played our first County Championship match at Lord’s and now we should have been looking forward to our first home game against Sussex.

“After going through the rigour of the winter and all the physical training that it entails, the players were desperate for the season to start.

“There would have been no better reward for the hard work of the off season than that trip to Lord’s.

“We must instead concentrate on the national effort and playing our part in the best way we can and I have true admiration for those tackling the pandemic on the front-line, in particular the NHS and all other key workers.”

Leach added: “I imagine it is not just the players who are yearning for a return to action as a new season offers the chance to catch up with those we have not seen over the winter months.

“It is times like this that make us realise how lucky we are and no one will be taking a day at the cricket for granted once this is all over.”

Worcestershire were set to begin the season at Kidderminster after the severe floods of the winter left Blackfinch New Road under water for more than 70 days since October.

The players trained at various venues, including winter base Malvern College, the National Performance Centre at Loughborough and the Cinderella Ground in Worcester in the immediate build-up to the season before the lockdown.

But the signs of a recovery at the county’s headquarters have been encouraging in recent weeks after the bout of warm and fine weather.

Leach said: “It has been nice to see some greenery at our ground this week after what has been an extraordinary beginning to 2020 with the floods.

“We sincerely hope that cricket will return as possible and for now the players continue to stay as ready and as fit as they are in eagerly awaiting a return to action.”