On a beautiful day in Leicester, the Grace Road side gathered in their various kits for photograph after photograph. Monotonous as it may have been, the buzz around the players didn’t wane at all. It may have been the relative warmth, it may have been the beautiful blue sky and the incredible sunshine, or it may have the excitement of a bubbly young team that knows their future is bright.
Last season saw Leicestershire finish the County Championship in their best position in a long time, ending the year very comfortably in mid-table and with the knowledge that they were within winning distance in several of the games.
Speaking to DEC, young bowler Ben Raine had this to say: “For a large part of last year we were genuine contenders to go up. We were challenging with Essex and then fell away towards the end.
“I think that was a bit of an eye opener as to what you need to do and what it actually takes to win Division Two and to get promoted.”
The Foxes have been on the up for a couple of seasons, but this season might just be the one. Some positive changes have been made, with both the coaching and the playing team. Pierre de Bruyn, now in his new role as head coach, said:
“We have completely reviewed the existing culture and the players have totally bought into what the new coaching team of myself, Graeme Welch and John Sadler have put into place.
“The guys have worked incredibly hard and I feel we’re in a much better place, and that was demonstrated on our pre-season tour to South Africa.”
“We’ve built on the good things we did last year,” Raine added, “We’ve recruited a couple of extra bowlers. I think we found last year we didn’t have a lot of bowlers.
“When we fell foul of injury we didn’t have the lads to come in, so we’ve got nine or ten bowlers this year, which should help us get through a tough season”
Raine’s team mate, the veteran Mark Pettini, also thinks the right changes have been made for continued improvement.
“The guys have worked really hard over the winter, had a great tour to South Africa, and there’s a few new signings as well,” Pettini said.
“Everyone is a year further on, a year more experienced, so it should be a really good season.”
If the four day game saw an improvement, the shortest format certainly didn’t. As a proud T20 side, this was something of a disappointment for the Foxes but with changes to the ECB schedule and some new blood in the ranks, there should be a marked improvement there as well.
“I think it’s just about maybe getting off to a better start in the competition this year,” Pettini said.
“The guys are aware that in the past it’s been a great competition for the club, so they’re keen to have more success in it this year and beyond.”
Raine is certain the change in schedule will have an impact: “With the T20, and with the schedule we had, it was quite hard to build up any form because you’re jumping between formats.
“As a club we didn’t have the luxury of a massive squad, so we couldn’t really rest our players.
“If you look at the clubs that do well [at T20], they tend to specialise in white ball cricket or have a largely different attack for the shorter game. So I think we have found it hard in past years to switch between formats, but hopefully this year you’ll see us at our best.”
Amongst the other changes made is the signing of international T20 batter, Kiwi Luke Ronchi for the Natwest Blast. Ronchi’s experience in the shortest format of the game, having played 32 T20 internationals for New Zealand, will add to the experience already present in Clint McKay and Mark Cosgrove.
As well as helping to raise the profile of the club, the impact of the overseas men on the young side is incalculable.
“It’s a chance for them to learn off guys who’ve played a lot of cricket and played international cricket to a high level,” Pettini said.
“With all the different T20 competitions going on around the world now, for those young players to see how the senior players go about doing stuff is brilliant.
“Someone like Lewis Hill, who is an unbelievable talent in the T20 game, for him to have somebody like Luke Ronchi, who’s done it around the world at international level, to learn from will definitely be valuable for him.
“Definitely Clint coming back is great for the club in all forms of the game. He was an inspiration last season and great fun to play with.”
Raine, as one of those younger players, is keen to learn from the senior men and again remarks on how the different schedule will help with that.
‘I think this also ties in with the schedule,” he said, “Last year we had these excellent players here but they’d be stuck training mid week on their own. It was shame that we, as younger players, didn’t get the opportunity really to pick their brains because we were off playing.
“This year with the T20 and the one-dayers all in a block, it does give us the opportunity to be around these guys a lot more and question them, and see they go about it.
“Last year, you only really saw them one day a week and that was game day. It was very disjointed.”
New head coach, de Bruyn certainly has a lot of hope for his side this year: “Personally, I’m very very excited,” he said.
“The hard work has been done and I’ve seen a change in mentality. We’re better than what we’ve produced over the last few years and this season, we must go out and prove that.”
So, with all that in mind are Leicestershire really contenders for promotion this season? Well, if you ask Ben Raine, that’s a resounding yes:
“Absolutely”, he said with no hesitation, “We’re going to win.”