It has been a good few years since there was genuine optimism heading into a new season at Grace Road but, after an encouraging 2020 season, Paul Nixon’s young Leicestershire side look well placed to cause some surprises in 2021.
The Foxes produced a late surge in the Vitality Blast last season, winning four of their last five group games to qualify for the knockout stage for the first time since 2011. That run included three last over victories with Nixon’s side showing a fighting spirit, the former Leicestershire keeper frequently displayed during the county’s glory years.
They were denied a trip to Finals Day in heartbreaking fashion against local rivals Notts. The quarter final at Trent Bridge ended in a tie and, with both sides having lost the same number of wickets, the Foxes were eliminated on a countback of the score at the end of the powerplay.
The Bob Willis Trophy campaign followed a similar path to Leicestershire’s previous County Championship season in 2019. Their solitary win came in their opening game, but they did at least avoid the wooden spoon in the North Group with two drawn matches.
The off season has seen a couple of notable departures from Grace Road. Mark Cosgrove was released after five seasons at the club while all-rounder Tom Taylor has headed down the M1 to join Northants.
Coming into the club, Paul Nixon has focused on younger talent with Scott Steel arriving from Durham and Ed Barnes, who impressed against the Foxes while on loan at Derbyshire last season, joins from Yorkshire.
Ins: Scott Steel (Durham), Rishi Patel (Essex), Ed Barnes (Yorkshire)
Outs: Tom Taylor (Northants), Mark Cosgrove (Released), Paul Horton (Retired)
Captain in all formats, there aren’t too many more influential players on a club than Colin Ackermann. Whenever Leicestershire do well, the South African is rarely not involved. He made a superb 73* in the sole red ball win of last season, over Lancashire, while in the T20 Blast he frequently made a difference.
In home fixtures against Yorkshire & Notts, Ackermann made crucial half centuries to see his side home before taking 3-18 in the last group game at Old Trafford to send the Foxes through. He has become an excellent captain and is the ideal person to lead this young side.
One to watch
Plenty of exciting young talent is coming through at Grace Road but one to keep an eye on in 2021 is Harry Swindells. The 22-year old wicket keeper faces competition with Lewis Hill for the gloves, but could well be involved just as a batsman. He has the ability to go well in all formats, his best innings of the 2020 season coming in the T20 quarter final against Notts. Having arrived at the crease at 22-3, Swindells made a crucial 58 to help Leicestershire get up to 139-7, a total that so nearly proved enough to reach Edgbaston.
Leicestershire have split their overseas signings. Australian opener Marcus Harris joining for the red ball campaign and the Royal London Cup. The 28-year old, who has made 10 test match appearances for his country, brings a Sheffield Shield average of nearly 40 to Grace Road and will help fill the void left by the departed Mark Cosgrove.
Continuing the theme of young talent, the Foxes will welcome 21-year old Naveen-ul-Haq for the T20 Blast. The Afghan pace bowler impressed in the Caribbean Premier League when representing the Guyana Amazon Warriors and, although he went unsold in the IPL auction, this could be a shrewd piece of business by Leicestershire.
How will they fare?
The revised County Championship format probably hasn’t helped Leicestershire’s chances of improving their red ball fortunes in 2021. They have been drawn in what looks the toughest group, which includes Surrey & Somerset – who will both be in the mix for the title – plus established Division One outfit Hampshire and Gloucestershire, who won promotion in 2019.
The Foxes have often found the 50-over format a struggle in recent years and will lose some key players to the Hundred, which really leaves the T20 as their main chance of success.
There is no doubting that the Foxes have a bowling line-up – led by the spin twins of Ackermann and Callum Parkinson – that can cause any side problems. The issue over the last couple of seasons in the Blast has been a lack of runs but if they can rectify that, there is no reason they can’t be in the mix for the quarter finals again.
Opening Fixture: CC v Hampshire, UptonSteel County Ground, 8th-11th April
Season Odds (SkyBet):
County Championship- 50-1
T20 Blast- 25-1
Royal London Cup- 22-1