Paul Nixon made significant strides in his first season as head coach, but Leicestershire fans were left with an all too familiar feeling of discontent after a dismal end to the season.
Five losses from their final six Championship matches marked a sad end to season that also included two of the club’s best players moving on, in Ben Raine and Zak Chappell. Chappell adds his name to the long list to make the transition to Nottinghamshire, after coming through the Leicestershire academy, while Ben Raine has returned to Durham, his home County.
Both spoke very highly of their time at the club and were extremely grateful for the opportunity – Raine especially who left Durham in 2013 in search of greater opportunities. However, both departures remain highly detrimental to a club of Leicestershire’s size, something that is a continuing problem in County cricket.
The Foxes’ premature demise in the early weeks of the season should not overshadow their remarkable start to the year. Had it not been for a couple of results that got away – a defeat to Durham, having asked their opponents to bat again, and a one-wicket loss to Middlesex after setting a formidable target of 383 – the Foxes could have been unbeaten in their first six games with four wins on the board.
This, during a time when the Michael Carberry situation could have been an unwelcome distraction. Carberry was relieved of the captaincy only a couple of months into his new role. The 38-year-old did not feature for his new County for the rest of the season and has since begun legal proceedings against the club.
A ten-wicket win at Canterbury over eventually promoted Kent marked a season highlight, but it proved to be their peak as the rest of the season declined dramatically. A penultimate-round win over Durham proved to be a bit of revenge to end the home season, with all 20 of Durham’s wickets falling on an incredible second day.
The Foxes’ progress in the longer format unfortunately could not be transferred to the white-ball formats. Eighth place finishes in both the One-Day cup and the Blast marked a familiar return.
All four Blast wins were memorable, however. Away wins at Trent Bridge and Old Trafford were tasty scalps, while a chase of 219 at Northants was an impressive feat. The clear highlight was Ben Raine’s 46-ball 113 which came in a 100-run thrashing of the Birmingham Bears at Edgbaston.
Only one win came in front of their own fans, although it was over eventual winners Worcestershire.
With three Division Two teams set to be promoted in 2019, expect a few to have Leicestershire down as dark horses. It would be an awful shame to see the good progress made this year go to waste. Paul Nixon is clearly doing good things at his beloved County.
SSCC: 6th, Division Two
T20 Blast: Group Stage – 8th, North Group
RLODC: Group Stage – 8th, North Group
SSCC: Ackermann, 876
T20 Blast: Ackermann, 343
RLODC: Cosgrove, 317
SSCC: Raine, 51
T20 Blast: Parkinson, 15
RLODC: Griffiths, 8
Player of the Season:
It is tough to look past Ben Raine. A real feisty cricketer who gives everything on the field, he will be a real loss to the Foxes. Alongside Mohammed Abbas, he was the spearhead of the bowling attack and instrumental during those first weeks of the season – 51 Championship wickets was a just reward for his efforts.
Raine’s brutal assault on the Birmingham bowlers during the Blast shows his capabilities across all formats, and his departure will leave a big hole in all three of Leicestershire’s sides. His commitment to Leicestershire right until the end of the season, even after agreeing to join Durham, is a fine reflection of his character as many others who signed deals during the season failed to do so.
Following his release from Lancashire at the end of the 2016 season, Gavin Griffiths has come back strongly. This season, he is visibly much stockier than during his time at Lancashire and his searing yorkers caused havoc for Division Two batsmen. He suffered from sporadic injuries during the second half of the season, but he will certainly be on the ‘Ones to Watch’ list next season, at which time he will be 25-years-old.
Could have done better:
Mark Cosgrove has been the standout batsman for Leicestershire for many years now, but he was unable to fulfil that role this year. Just 440 Championship runs at an average of 18 marked a poor return for a batsman of his calibre, who usually pushes the 1,000-run barrier. At 34, Leicestershire will be hoping he still has a couple of strong years left.
Need to work on:
Sustainability. In order to mount a serious promotion challenge the Foxes will have to maintain their impressive start. The East Midlands County proved right up to the penultimate round of fixtures that they are capable of taking 20 wickets; the batsman will have to stand up in the same way.
Paul Nixon seems to be prioritising red-ball cricket and cementing the good progress made this year will be priority number one. The departures of Raine and Chappell will prove tough, but the addition of Chris Wright is a shrewd signing. Wright played every Championship match this season, taking 41 wickets in doing so, and proved he still has a lot to offer at 33-years-old. He will provide much needed experience to Mohammed Abbas, who has signed on for the 2019 season. Aaron Lilley, recently signed having been released from Lancashire, will help to strengthen the white-ball side.