STEVE Rhodes says Ben Cox’s call-up for the MCC and Champion County match in Abu Dhabi is testament to the major improvements in his all-round game.

Cox and Worcestershire team-mate Joe Clarke are part of the MCC squad for the traditional curtain-raiser to the new domestic season.

Clarke is also in the England Lions party for the five-week tour of Sri Lanka starting next week and the North versus South series of 50-over games in the UAE.

Cox will remain in Abu Dhabi for the MCC match after the County’s 11-day pre-season camp.

They will face 2016 champions Middlesex in a four-day match from March 26.

Rhodes said: “I’m really pleased for both but for Ben to get an opportunity to show his wares in a game against the Champion County is a great way to start the season for him.

“His all-round game has improved and that is testament to the work he puts in. But he has also matured a lot as a person and that has shown in his cricket.

“Joe is in that position as a Lion where you are one step below the England team.

“The North versus South games are the type you should get picked for and, for the MCC and Champion County game, if they are looking to put together a strong side then they’ll look for a few of the Lions players.

“Both Ben and Joe will be in Abu Dhabi a little longer. We will be going home after the pre-season camp but Ben will stay and Joe will be out there for the North versus South games.”

With Moeen Ali established in the senior England team and a host of players earning national under 19 call-ups last summer, the recognition of Cox and Clarke is further evidence of the strides being made at New Road.

Rhodes said: “We are delighted. We want to play as many English players as we can and give them opportunites to get into that Lions or England side or any of these other teams.

“The opportunities we have given these guys have helped but it is still down to them to perform and push their way in which is what they have done.”

Meanwhile, Worcestershire 2017 overseas signing Mitchell Santner played a key role as New Zealand won their opening one-day international against Australia by six runs at Eden Park, Auckland.

Santner, who will play for the County in the NatWest T20 Blast, took 3-44 from his 10 overs.

New Zealand posted 286-9 in the first match for the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy before Australia were dismissed for 280 in 47 overs.