“Leicester City will be hoping to emulate the success of the county’s cricket team, following their success over Glamorgan, when they play fellow Welsh side Swansea City on Sunday.” It’s unlikely that this will be the key line in this Sunday’s papers, but it’s hard to avoid the success story that is the Midlands County right now.
There’s a tenuous link between the success of the football club and that of the cricket team. While success is thought to be contagious, simply sharing the honours with the Foxes down the road downplays the transition Leicestershire have made.
For a side that has won just one County Championship game in three years, there was a surprising amount of optimism before the season began. The thoughtful acquisitions of Paul Horton, Mark Pettini and Neil Dexter, all boasting bags of county experience, was as shrewd as it was impressive from Wasim Khan and co.
And while the season remains in its infancy, the signs are there that Leicestershire will not be adding more utensils to their wooden spoon collection this term. A ten-wicket victory at the SSE SWALEC, both ruthless and clinical in nature, was perhaps a slight surprise in margin alone, but victories seem to be on the agenda this year. Promotion is not beyond the realms of possibility.
Kent will also have that promotion spot on the mind as they finally look to get their already-truncated season underway. The Spitfires were absent from the last round of fixtures and their opener at Worcestershire was washed out without a ball being bowled, meaning they have yet to bowl a ball in anger in the Specsavers County Championship.
Taking just five points from Worcestershire will have been a frustration for Sam Northeast’s side, now devoid of Robert Key following his retirement during the week following 18 years in the game. Much thought of as a batter and a leader, Key’s impact will be missed in the dressing room but if he has imparted just a fraction of the knowledge he has shown in Sky punditry to Northeast, a strong skipper in his own right, then Kent won’t go far wrong this year.
Kent were victorious when the two sides last met at Grace Road in July. In a low-scoring affair, Matt Coles shone with ten wickets in the match, while Darren Stevens’ quick-fire 63 proved to be the biggest score in the match.
Opening batsman Paul Horton announced his Leicestershire debut in style, notching twin half-centuries as his succeeded by ten wickets. Despite his team losing three wickets for ten runs after a strong opening stand, Horton remained resolute to make a stubborn 67, following that up with a fluent 64 not out in an unbroken 115-run partnership with Angus Robson.
All-rounder Darren Stevens boasts an incredible ball-bat combination over his career against the Foxes. He averages just 17.25 with the ball, including four five-wicket hauls – two more than he has against any other county – with a best of 5-35. Stevens also has 41.71 with the willow, although he has yet to gain the crucial three figures, having a best of 97.
Ned Eckersley is absent for the hosts, courtesy of a broken finger, while Mark Pettini is among the 13-man squad despite having a bad back.
The Kent skipper has the option to bowl first at Grace Road, and it seems that may be the way he goes with six seamers in his squad from which to choose. He also boasts two specialist spinners, while Adam Rouse could be set for his Specsavers County Championship debut with the Spitfires.
Leicestershire squad: Mark Cosgrove (captain), Aadil Ali, Zak Chappell, Neil Dexter, Paul Horton, Clint McKay, Jigar Naik, Niall O’Brien (wicket-keeper), Mark Pettini, Ben Raine, Angus Robson, Charlie Shreck, Wayne White,
Kent squad: Sam Northeast (captain), Adam Ball, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Hugh Bernard, Alex Blake, Mitchell Claydon, Matt Coles, Joe Denly, Sean Dickson, David Griffiths, Calum Haggett, Imran Qayyum, Adam Riley, Adam Rouse (wicket-keeper), Darren Stevens.
Weather and Conditions:
The East Midlands as a whole is in for chilly and cloudy conditions, with spots of rain, over the next four days. Unfortunately, Leicester is no exception. Rain is expected on Monday and Wednesday.
Date: 24 – 27 April 2016
Ground: The Fischer County Ground, Grace Road
Umpires: Steve Gale & Russell Evans
Odds: Leicestershire 4/5, Kent 4/5