Leicestershire will be wanting to put their red ball season behind them as they ended firmly rooted to the bottom of Division Two. It was not just the fact they were winless, losing nine of their 14 games, but that five of those losses were by an innings or ten wickets. However, as so often in the past, they were able to give some reward to their supporters through their white ball performances, reaching the quarter-finals of the One-Day Cup and narrowly missing out on a quarter-final spot in the Blast, in the very competitive North Group.
Much of the difference in fortunes was down to the runs and wickets contributed by their overseas signings, Wiaan Mulder and Beuran Hendricks. Hendricks only played six Championship matches, but came good in the white ball competitions. Mulder made a slow start to his Leicestershire career, but having become more productive with the bat in the second half of the season he was called away to the South African squad. Colin Ackerman remains the rock around whom Leicestershire innings are built and was the top Championship run scorer with 744, albeit at the slightly disappointing average of 35.42. Opening batter Hasan Azad made a strong start to the season, with 249 runs in the first three matches, but then fell away and that was really the story of their red ball campaign. There were similar problems taking wickets. Callum Parkinson ended with 30 at 49.56 and veteran seamer Chris Wright took 27 at 45.7, but those averages are not going to win you matches.
In the Blast, Leicestershire were well served by Afghanistan’s pace bowler Naveen-ul-Haq, who ended as the competition’s top wicket-taker with 26. Supported by the left arm spin of Parkinson and runs from Ackerman and Aaron Lilley, they registered eight wins, which should have been sufficient to secure fourth place in the North Group and a quarter-final place. However, as a result of historical disciplinary issues Leicestershire had been informed in August last year that any further fixed penalty in the next 12 months could lead to a two-point penalty in whichever competition the incident took place. In a tight finish against Northamptonshire a moment of ill-temper from Lilley and then two full-tosses above waist high in the penultimate over from Naveen-ul-Haq (which carries an automatic disciplinary penalty), led to the two point sanction being implemented and Yorkshire went through.
While Leicestershire lost a few players to the Hundred, they were able to retain some key figures who were able to deliver in the One-Day Cup. Mulder had a particularly profitable competition, finishing with 533 runs at 88.83 and 14 wickets at 28.92. Louis Kimber made 372 runs at 41.33 and 17 wickets-a-piece from Hendricks and Wright took them to six wins in the group stages and a home quarter final against Kent. The eventual champions posted 325/8 from their 50 overs and despite half centuries from Mulder and Scott Steel, Leicestershire eventually came up short.
Vitality Blast: Sixth in the North Group
RLODC: Losing quarter-finalists
LV= CC: Colin Ackermann 744 at 35.42
Vitality Blast: Colin Ackermann 367 at 30.58; Strike rate 133.94
RLODC: Wiaan Mulder 533 at 88.83; Strike rate 100.37
LV= CC: Callum Parkinson 30 at 49.56
Vitality Blast: Naveen-ul-Haq 26 at 17.57
RLODC: Beuran Hendricks 17 at 19.17
Player of the season:
Wiaan Mulder had a strong debut season for the Foxes. Despite a slow start in the Championship, he ended with 689 runs at 49.21, although the all-rounder will be disappointed with just 14 wickets at 51.14. He scored two centuries, including 235 not out at Hove. In the One-Day Cup he registered five fifties and one hundred from nine innings and was integral to seeing the side to a quarter-final place. The weight of runs eventually resulted in a recall to the South African Test team. Overseas signings for next season have not been announced, but it would be assumed that Mulder will remain on the Foxes’ shopping list.
Rehan Ahmed’s name has come to prominence in recent days with his call up to the England set up in preparation for the Test tour of Pakistan. The 18-year-old leg-spinner has only played three first class matches, but he made a significant impact in the end-of-season games, taking 11 wickets and scoring a century against Derbyshire. Previously he appeared for the England Lions in the South African tour game earlier in the summer. He will play for the Lions in a warm up game against the full England Test side in Abu Dhabi and is expected to be retained for the Test tour, likely as a net bowler and travelling reserve, raising the possibility that he could become England men’s youngest Test debutant. As would be expected of a leg-spinner, he has also come to the fore in white ball cricket. In the Blast he took a wicket with his maiden delivery, finishing with 19 wickets at an average of 20. He went on to play for the Southern Brave in the Hundred.
Could have done better
Rishi Patel is a batter who looks like he should be scoring runs for fun, with the ability to play textbook shots into all areas of the ground. At 24-years-old he is now reaching the point at which potential needs to be converted into runs on the board and a return of 418 runs at 27.86 in the Championship will be disappointing to everyone at Leicestershire, particularly Patel himself. The One-Day Cup was no more profitable, with 107 runs at 11.88. Hopefully he will be back stronger in 2023.
Need to work on
Clearly Leicestershire are still able to compete in white ball competitions, but they need a big turnaround in their red ball performances. While they were able to score decent totals, the bowlers never looked likely to take the twenty wickets needed for a win. Hendricks was disappointing as an overseas strike bowler, and they will hopefully have better fortune with their choice in 2023.
The main signing so far is James Taylor as batting coach. The former England Test and one-day player was forced to retire because of a heart condition and returns to the Foxes 11 years after last playing for the county.
Leicestershire have lost one of their more dynamic players in Ben Mike, who has moved to Yorkshire. He joins another six players who have been released, including opening batter Hassan Azad, but his place has been taken by 23-year-old Sol Budinger, who has moved across from Nottinghamshire. We await news of further signings.
The disastrous Championship results were redeemed by much stronger performances in the Blast and One-Day Cup. It could be argued that this is a par season for the Midlands side, but the magnitude of many of the Championship defeats is a concern and there is the continued threat of losing the more able players.