Paul Nixon has undoubtedly added some steel and direction to the Foxes since his appointment as Head Coach in 2017. In advance of the 2022 season, he’s been given a bit more support with the county’s first Director of Cricket, in Claude Henderson. The subsequent signings of Wiaan Muller and Beuran Hendricks suggest the South African is making his mark early, (Muller was due to sign last year and had to withdraw). While the loss of Tom Smith (bowling coach) to Yorkshire wasn’t in the plan, Alfonso Thomas joining the staff brings another experienced ex-pro into the fold.
Leicestershire struggled in the County Championship last time out, finishing fifth of six in the first half of the campaign and then fourth in Division 3. Sixth place in the North Group of the T20 blast was respectable and fourth in the Royal London One-Day Cup meant missing out on any knockout cricket last season.
Outside of the overseas signings, Leicestershire have bought in potential rather than proven performers. Glamorgan were very disappointed to lose Roman Walker. The 21-year-old has moved counties to play across all forms after only appearing in T20 and List A cricket so far. Tom Scriven is a young all-rounder of much promise but he has only played 7 games across three formats for Hampshire before moving counties.
Whether by plan or necessity, there’s clearly an emphasis on developing young players at Leicestershire and the two young prospects will be encouraged by the example of Harry Swindells. The 24 year old wicketkeeper batsmen cemented his place as first choice in red-ball cricket last term. He has clearly impressed Nixon – and onlookers – with his glove work and his batting. 700 runs at 43 is an excellent return.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, young players need experienced pros to help them along, and the continued excellence of Chris Wright gives Leicestershire real new ball threat. Outside of Callum Parkinson’s left arm spin, Chris Wright bowled more overs than any other bowler for The Foxes last year and with 49 Championship wickets at 22s, he continues to be a highly effective county operator. Turning 37-years-old during the season suggests he hasn’t got long left, but Wright has, if anything, improved with age.
While the outside world discusses reduction in the number of first-class counties, Nixon and Henderson will be looking to their squad of young hopefuls, lesser fancied names, and veterans to show the world the importance of all 18 counties. Actually, they’ll probably just want to prove people wrong by winning.
Ins: Roman Walker (Glamorgan), Tom Scriven (Hampshire), Vikai Kelly (Warwickshire), Wiaan Muller (Overseas (SA) – County Championship & One-Day-Cup), Beuran Hendricks (Overseas (SA) – County Championship & One-Day-Cup), Naveen-ul-Haq (Overseas, Afghanistan – T20 Blast), Rahmanullah Gurbaz (Overseas, Afghanistan – T20 Blast)
Outs: Dieter Klein (Released), Marcus Harris (Gloucestershire)
Having been ousted as wicketkeeper by Harry Swindells, Lewis Hill has responded with the bat, and was named both Fans Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year after averaging 46 in one-day-cricket and scoring 944 runs at 45s in red-ball cricket. With the bowling attack strengthened through overseas signings, it’s with the bat where Leicestershire are going to need performers. Having lost Marcus Harris at the top of the order, they will be relying on Hill to deliver big runs in red and white-ball cricket.
Player to watch
To Leicestershire fans, suggesting Callum Parkinson is ‘one to watch’ might feel slightly disingenuous. While his twin brother Matt gets the attention, Callum was Leicestershire’s leading wicket taker in red-ball cricket last year, with 50 wickets. Callum’s left arm spin was initially most effective in white-ball cricket, and he remains an excellent T20 bowler, but at just 25-years-old (young in spin bowling terms) it could well be that his best years are very much still to come. If he builds on last year, and continues to contribute in all three formats as he did last year, the conversation might well move from one Parkinson to spin twins.
An even split between South Africans in the County Championship and One-Day Cup, and Afghans in the T20 Blast, sees some intriguing signings by The Foxes. Wiaan Mulder is a 24-year-old All Rounder who has played 8 tests and 12 ODIs for South Africa, and has a strong first-class record, averaging 33 with the bat and 26 with the ball over 46 games. He’s joined in the County Championship set up by Beuran Hendricks. The left arm quick has played a single Test, but in 99 first-class games boasts a bowling average of just over 24. While these look like good additions, the loss of Marcus Harris at the top of the order is a blow.
In T20 cricket, Leicestershire re-signed Naveen-ul-Haq after a stellar 2021 season. 26 wickets at 17s including a wicket in every match he played was a terrific return. Joining ul-Haq will be 19-year-old Rahmanullah Gurbaz. In 20 T20 Internationals Gurbaz is striking at 137 per hundred balls and averaging in the mid-twenties. He’s also played 9 ODIs for Afghanistan and is averaging over 50. His burgeoning reputation has seen him replace Jason Roy at the Gujarat Titans in this years’ IPL.
How will they fare:
Division Two of the County Championship will be a tough competition for Leicestershire. Their season starts with a difficult outing against Worcestershire and with some of the traditionally ‘larger’ counties such as Nottinghamshire in the division, anything in the top half of the table would represent a good season.
The impact of The Hundred means that knowing who you’ll be up against in the One-Day Cup is a case of ‘best guess’, and after last season’s 4th place, there’s an opportunity for a full strength Foxes to get some wins and build some white-ball momentum.
You would feel that they lack the firepower to get into the later stages of the T20 blast.
Thursday 7th April 11:00 vs Worcestershire; Uptonsteel County Ground, Leicester
Odds – Sky Bet
County Championship Division 2: 20/1
Vitality Blast: 25/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 25/1