The two counties at the foot of the second division of the LV County Championship meet at Chelmsford as they look to revive their four-day fortunes after a brief break for their T20 Blast fixtures. Both teams succumbed to their respective opponents in the shortest formats on Friday, Leicestershire losing to Worcestershire and Essex blown away by a stunning 92 from Chris Gayle on his Somerset debut.
Essex narrowly missed out on promotion in 2014, ending the season just eight points adrift of Worcestershire. Many tipped them to finish high up the table this time around, but the season simply hasn’t panned out that way. Key players like Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate were on IPL duty at the start of the season, and with the return of these senior squad members alongside Jesse Ryder, they will see their home encounter against the perennial wooden-spoon champions as a must-win fixture if they are to mount a serious tilt at the top spots.
For Leicestershire, the main talking point is the same as ever: their last victory in a four-day game came in 2012, and although the appointment of a new chief executive in Wasim Khan has brought a new ethos and optimism to the club, they are yet to show the fruits of their labours on the field.
They got into a dominant position against Northamptonshire before an electric stand between David Willey and Rory Kleinveldt zapped them into submission. They played a cameo role in the Kevin Pietersen saga as their bowlers were plundered for his 355* before Steven Davies and Jason Roy sealed the win with an explosive chase. Essex might be vulnerable after a draining Twenty20 encounter, and the odds of Leicestershire winning a match inevitably increase as time goes on for purely mathematical reasons, but every sign indicates that they will struggle to claim the 16 points here.
Date: 31st May – 3rd June 2015
Ground: The County Ground, Chelmsford
Umpires: Steve Gale & Nigel Llong
Odds (SkyBet): Essex 4/9, Leicestershire 13/8
While his former teammates do battle with England in the Test arena, Jesse Ryder is plying his trade in the less fraught world of county cricket. Easily one of the most graceful and talented batsmen New Zealand has ever produced, he appears to have found a home in Essex that suits his bowling just as well. He claimed 44 wickets in division two last season at an average of 18.09, and if he can fire with bat and ball, his team cannot remain in the Championship’s lower reaches for too long.
Not to put too much pressure on the Leicestershire new boy, Andrea Agathangelou has signed a contract for the rest of the season with the ailing club. He struck an excellent 163* for the second XI against international opposition (Afghanistan) at Wormsley at the start of the week, and has been named in the squad to face Essex. He struggled to make an impact for Lancashire in the year they were relegated, but he has five first-class centuries to his name and could well make an impact for his new side on debut.
Essex have Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate available after their IPL stints. Jesse Ryder and Mark Pettini have recovered from their injuries in time for the Chelmsford Cricket Festival. Therefore, they are expected to name a full-strength squad to face Leicestershire.
Essex squad: TBC
For Leicestershire, Matthew Boyce returns from injury after putting in an impressive performance against Afghanistan for the second XI at Wormsley. As mentioned, new signing Andrea Agathangelou is expected to make his debut for the county. While one associate (Afghanistan) helped to give Leicestershire a boost, another (Ireland) has deprived them of a key batsman in Niall O’Brien, who will take part in the Intercontinental Cup.
Leicestershire squad: Mark Cosgrove (c), Andrea Agathangelou, Matthew Boyce, Ned Eckersley (wk), Ollie Freckingham, Lewis Hill, Clint McKay, Jigar Naik, Ben Raine, Gus Robson, Charlie Shreck, Rob Taylor, Tom Wells.
Weather and conditions
Showers are predicted on Sunday and Tuesday, but otherwise there should be plenty of time for a result. Chelmsford has played host to two low-scoring thrillers in the LVCC so far this season, and both sides could benefit from a “results pitch” on this occasion.