Leicestershire’s fortunes in recent years have had an all too familiar cycle. Young players are developed, young players prosper, and young players are poached by bigger counties. In the way that all counties aim to prepare and develop players for international cricket; Leicestershire must feel it is their aim to develop players for Division One cricket.
Division One cricket was a realistic dream for a period of 2018 for the East Midlands county as an upward turn in form saw Leicestershire push toward the top end of the table during the first half of the season.
Michael Carberry’s ugly resignation of the captaincy did not derail their form, but a couple of early season results in which Leicestershire managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory ultimately caught up with them as the promotion push ran out of steam. The dreaded ‘wooden spoon’ award was never on the cards as Leicestershire made genuine progress during Paul Nixon’s first season.
But Leicestershire now must aim to continue their good progress without a couple of players who made it possible. Zak Chappell’s raw talent was quickly recognised by Nottinghamshire, along with many other counties, and he has made the short journey up the M1 to continue his development.
Ben Raine has reinvented himself in the last couple of years and he will return to his beloved Durham from where he was released a few years ago. He remains forever grateful to Leicestershire for giving him an opportunity that others in his position have not been so lucky to receive.
Indeed, Leicestershire’s relationship with the bigger counties isn’t all one-sided. Arron Lilley can take heart from Ben Raine’s achievements as he was quickly snapped up after being released by Lancashire. Lilley enjoyed much success in Lancashire’s white-ball sides; but failed to ever establish a place in the red-ball side that always boasted a strong armoury of spinners.
Ateeq Javid may feel his role in the side is under threat by Lilley’s arrival as both players will play a similar role. Javid did not produce the form that many hoped for in 2018 after his arrival from Warwickshire.
Lilley will also be a welcome addition to Leicestershire’s white-ball sides who failed to get anywhere near the knockout stages in 2018.
IN: Chris Wright (Warwickshire), Will Davis (Derbyshire), Arron Lilley (Lancashire).
OUT: Zak Chappell (Notts), Ben Raine (Durham), Ned Eckersley, Mark Pettini, Rob Sayer, Tom Wells, Richard Jones, Michael Carberry, Cameron Delport (all released).
Overseas: Mohammad Abbas (Pakistan).
Chris Wright is a shrewd appointment in the bowling apartment and the 33-year-old should settle very quickly at Grace Road. The seamer played in every match of Warwickshire’s campaign last year and pocketed 41 scalps in the process.
Arguably, the departure that will be most detrimental to Leicestershire’s fortunes is that of Wasim Khan. The former chief-executive spent four years at Grace Road and the club made significant progress during his tenure. It is a testament to his talents that the 47-year-old’s new role is managing director of the Pakistan Cricket Board. Khan described the role as one ‘’that he couldn’t turn down’’, a statement Leicestershire know only too well.
Gavin Griffiths made great progress in 2018 but suffered injury during the latter parts of the season. One might think that a bowler or batsman of greater experience would be a key player, but Leicestershire’s form last year was made possible by a greater bowling threat. Griffiths’ aggressive bowling style will be a vital weapon in consistently taking 20 wickets.
Player to watch:
Injuries to Chappell and Griffiths last season gave opportunities to the likes of Ben Mike. The 20-year-old made a good impression last year, and he took nine wickets in his debut match against Sussex. Mike can already be pencilled in for the rest of his career as one who can ‘bowl a heavy ball’.
Leicestershire have done fantastically well to secure the signing of Mohammad Abbas for another year. The Pakistani is a world-class opening bowler and some of the Foxes’ faithful may have feared he too would have been poached by a larger county. Fortunately, with the 28-year-old already at the top of his game, it is unlikely that he would possess such desires.
How they’ll fare:
It is hard to imagine Leicestershire gaining promotion this year, even with the extra position up for grabs. Consolidating the good work made in red-ball cricket will be high on the agenda for Paul Nixon; as will an upturn in white-ball form.
SSCC (Div Two): 6th
RL50: Group Stage
T20 Blast: Group Stage
SSCC Division Two vs Sussex at the 1st Central County Ground – Friday 5th April 11am
Season odds (SkyBet):
SSCC Division Two: 16/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 33/1
Vitality T20 Blast: 33/1