The skies are clear, the April showers have dispersed and London is warmer than Rome. It is high time therefore for some proper red-ball cricket and Leicestershire are preparing to write their opening stanza of the 2018 County Championship season, with Sussex the visitors to Grace Road.
Leicestershire escaped the doom and gloom that was the first round of fixtures, instead producing an encouraging performance against a strong Loughborough MCCU side earlier this week. Much improvement is needed from last-year’s winless season, but there is a new captain, a new coach and plenty of reasons for optimism in the East Midlands.
Paul Nixon takes the reins, replacing the outgoing Pierre De Bruyn in October. His long association with the county saw two County Championships and he will look to remedy the rumoured squad discontent that plagued much of 2017. 37-year-old Michael Carberry takes over from Mark Cosgrove as captain and the experienced duo will look to transform Leicestershire from clear bottom-dwellers into a competitive Division Two side at the very least. A good showing from his charges against a strong Sussex side would give Nixon a lot of confidence for the season ahead.
Their opponents kicked off their campaign with a rain-afflicted draw at Edgbaston. Sussex’s David Wiese, batting at number nine, was the sole century-maker in either division in round one and the South Coast side also saw encouraging performances from Ishant Sharma and new captain Ben Brown.
Jason Gillespie’s arrival sparked much anticipation about a charge in all three formats and while another middle-order collapse did little to allay supporters’ fears about a lack of quality batsmen, the Australian will be encouraged with the performance against fellow promotion candidates. A strong win at Grace Road would set the season up nicely ahead of their home opener next week.
Michael Carberry is clearly a fighter and it is great that he is still playing after all he has been through. He may need these battling qualities this season. He ended last season’s loan spell at Grace Road with a string of low scores and will hope to perform better this year in an experienced top order. There is also the added responsibility of captaincy and how he manages his bowlers, including exciting young quick Zak Chappell, will be interesting.
Neither Phil Salt nor Harry Finch performed particularly well against Warwickshire, and the two young batsmen will hope to prove their worth here. Both are strong slip fielders and enjoyed good pre-seasons, but with promising Delray Rawlins and Tom Haines, who scored a hundred for the Second XI this week, waiting in the wings they may find themselves usurped should they fail to notch a score.
It is a 14-man squad for Leicestershire. Ned Eckersley is a doubt owing to a groin niggle, and thus winter recruit Ateeq Javid is included as cover. Mark Cosgrove is over a bout of illness and is fit to play, while Mohammad Abbas of Pakistan, if selected, will make his first-class debut for the county as their overseas player.
Leicestershire squad: Michael Carberry (c), Mohammad Abbas, Colin Ackermann, Zak Chappell, Mark Cosgrove, Neil Dexter, Ned Eckersley (wk), Gavin Griffiths, Lewis Hill (wk), Paul Horton, Ateeq Javid, Dexter Klein, Callum Parkinson, Ben Raine
Sussex have dropped academy seamer Will Sheffield from the squad named against Warwickshire. Abi Sakande will travel with the squad to continue his recuperation, but the game comes too soon for both spinner Danny Briggs and the exciting George Garton. Jofra Archer and Chris Jordan are at the IPL and thus Ishant Sharma’s overseas potency will be crucial for the bowling attack. Leg-spinner Will Beer sat out at Edgbaston, but a dryer pitch and warmer weather may see him included, likely ahead of Scottish seamer Stuart Whittingham.
Sussex squad: Ben Brown (c/wk), Will Beer, Michael Burgess, Harry Finch, Ollie Robinson, Phil Salt, Ishant Sharma, Stiaan Van Zyl, Luke Wells, Stuart Whittingham, David Wiese, Luke Wright
Weather & Conditions
The forecast is excellent for Friday, and we may see a rare April toss if Sussex look to make the most of the best conditions of the weekend by batting first. Thunderstorms lurk on Saturday and cooler temperatures and cloud are likely for Day Three and Four. The hosts bowled out Loughborough for 155 earlier this week and two wickets for left-armer Callum Parkinson suggests there may be some turn.
Date: 20th – 23rd April 2018
Time: 11.00 am
Ground: Grace Road
Odds (Sky Bet): Leicesteshire 6/4, Sussex 8/15