It’s not every side that would consider finishing 7th in the second division a positive, but for Leicestershire, who are usually fighting over a wooden spoon with Derbyshire, that spot represents an upward trend. The Foxes may not have been quite up there with Leicester’s other sporting successes – football, snooker and rugby – but the 2016 season showed a great deal of improvement.
With four SSCC wins and the threat of several others, Leicestershire were a bit of a surprise package. The 7th place finish was their best in the County Championship for several years and, had one of those six draws been pushed over the line the Foxes might very well have finished in a top three spot.
Nevertheless, they didn’t, and that ability to take control, to turn those good performances into wins, is something they’ve been working on over the winter.
A new coaching setup has been put in place, featuring Pierre De Bruyn and former Derbyshire Elite Performance Director Graeme Welch, a top class bowling coach. Add to this a couple of new faces and the commitments of young pace men Zak Chappel and Dieter Klein, and Leicestershire will be hoping they’ve found the right formula. If they have, they have a good chance of improving even further in the SSCC.
As the Foxes put so much focus on the four-day game, the white ball cricket suffered. For a team that has always prided itself on its twenty over successes, finishing bottom of the table in the Blast would have been especially disappointing. This year, Kiwi Luke Ronchi – who has an impressive T20 strike rate of over 141 – will be joining the team at Grace Road for the whole of the Blast competition.
Leicestershire retained the services of big names like Mark Cosgrove and Clint McKay, while Charlie Shreck’s bowling attack has been bolstered with some young blood. Ronchi’s signing in the Natwest T20 Blast is a move in the right direction and the expertise of Messrs DeBruyn and Welch means Leicestershire have every right to go into new season with a pile of confidence.
Ins: Richard Jones (Warwickshire), Gavin Griffiths (Lancashire), Callum Parkinson (Derbyshire), Colin Ackerman (EUP), Dieter Klein (EUP), James Burke (Surrey loan)
Outs: Rob Taylor, Atif Sheikh, Oli Freckingham, Jigar Naik, Micheal Burgess, Niall O’Brien (all released)
Key Player With a slightly unconventional physique for a sportsman, Mark Cosgrove is nevertheless an inspirational player. His 2016 record speaks for itself, making over 1000 first class runs, as well as 488 runs in the limited overs formats. Cosgrove has proven himself a top class batsman and an inspirational captain at Grace Road, and can even turn his hand to bowling when the situation requires.
Player to Watch Although Zak Chappell is primarily a quick bowler, it’s fair to say he’s quite handy as a lower order batsman as well. Although we’ve seen little of him so far, his debut was memorable enough to give him hope for the future. On debut against Derbyshire in the final match of 2015, the 20-year-old Foxes Academy graduate made 96 batting at number 10, a Leicestershire record innings. He then went on to claim the wicket of opener Ben Slater in both innings. Having just signed on for another couple of seasons, it’s clear that there is a future at Grace Road for this young man.
Overseas Signings Clint McKay, Luke Ronchi, Cameron Delport
How they’ll fare If the Foxes can tap into the same form they had with the red ball last year, and add a little something that will push them over the line more often – something like a new coaching regime and some fresh new bowling talent – they could reasonably be pushing for a mid to top table spot. The white ball cricket might suffer again if all focus is on the four-day game, however, but the addition of Luke Ronchi could pick up their fortunes a little in the Blast. It’s difficult to see them threatening for a knock-out place in either competition, though.
v Nottinghamshire, Grace Road, Friday 7th April
SS County Championship Division 2: 14/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 33/1
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: 40/1