While 2015 brought some respite for Leicestershire’s woes including a first County Championship win in nearly three years, they still had a disappointing season and an ominous cloud hangs over Grace Road.
When Lewis Hill took a single off Arron Nijjar at Chelmsford, he did not simply win a game for his team. He ended a string of 38 consecutive County Championship games without a victory for Leicestershire, a record that had seen them finish bottom of Division Two in both 2013 and 2014 without a win to their name.
While Leicestershire were spared one of those ignominious fates in 2015, they still finished 35 points adrift of their local rivals Derbyshire, and an enormous 134 points short of a promotion spot. They also failed to mount a significant challenge in either white-ball competition, finishing bottom in Group A of the Royal London One-Day Cup and (the jewel in their 2015 crown) third from bottom in the NatWest T20 Blast.
There are some long-heralded signs of renewal at Grace Road: after the 2015 exodus which saw six players leave the club including first-team regulars like Josh Cobb and Shiv Thakor, the 2016 Leicestershire will boast some new additions with impressive county cricket experience. The road to recovery is a long and arduous one for the Midlands county, and it may yet be halted if the threat of a reduction in first-class counties ever materialises, but at least their wagon has some sturdy wheels again.
Ins: Paul Horton (Lancashire), Neil Dexter (Middlesex), Wayne White (Derbyshire), Kevin O’Brien (limited-overs), Mark Pettini (Essex)
Outs: Matthew Boyce (retired), Andrea Agathangelou, Dan Redfern, Alex Wyatt, Neil Pinner (released)
Angus Robson has won many admirers for his consistency during Leicestershire’s barren spell, and it was fitting that his second first-class century was the decisive innings in ending that forgettable run of form. He narrowly missed out on scoring 1,000 County Championship runs in 2015 having achieved that feat in 2014 (he was the only Leicestershire batsman to do so), and his side will need a similar or better contribution from him this year if they are to avoid adding a third consecutive wooden spoon to their trophy cabinet.
Robson made more 50s than any of his colleagues in 2015 and 2014, but only has two first-class hundreds to his name. In 2016, he could follow no better example than the early apostles and focus on his conversion rate.
Player to Watch
Zak Chappell made an impressive 96 batting at number 10 on his first-class debut against Derbyshire last season, but it is in the bowling department where his greatest potential lies. In a club that seems to be putting a lot of its faith into tried and tested county veterans such as Horton, Dexter, and Pettini, Leicestershire fans will be hoping that the Grantham-born teenager and Leicestershire academy alumnus can break his way into the first team and sow the seeds of a sustainable future for the club.
Former Australia bowler Clint McKay is returning to the Midlands following his retirement from Australian international and domestic cricket. His experience and leadership has been cited as one of the lynchpins of Leicestershire’s nascent revival and while he doesn’t pack the rafters like Chris Gayle or Dale Steyn, his loyalty, professionalism and consistency is more in line with Leicestershire’s needs (and their budget) for 2016.
They have also made two impressive bargain buys for the NatWest T20 Blast. Umar Akmal may be much derided as a wicket-keeper and his performance in the World T20 was one of the lowlights of Pakistan’s dismal campaign, but he remains a potent batsman in the shortest format. Similarly, South African Rilee Roussouw has had a rocky start to his international career (seven ducks in his first 42 innings), but could prove a stroke of luck for Leicestershire if he can adapt to English conditions.
How they’ll fare
Fans of the club may want to look away now (and then open their eyes again in September). It is difficult to justify predicting anything other than a bottom-of-the-table finish in four-day cricket given the scale of the challenges the club faces. There are no easy games in the Championship in either division and while Leicestershire shouldn’t go through 2016 without a win, they are not going to mount a serious challenge to the promotion-chasing clubs.
White-ball cricket could tell a different story, though, and they were only two wins away from the quarter-finals in the Blast last year. The recruitment of Ireland’s Kevin O’Brien for the limited-overs tournaments could provide some much-needed respite for the club’s on-field worries.
v Glamorgan, April 17 at the SWALEC Stadium.
Specsavers County Championship Division Two: 20/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 50/1
Natwest T20 Blast Odds: 28/1