The 2022 season offered Leicestershire very little to cheer about. A winless season in Division 2 of the County Championship saw the Running Foxes finish bottom for the eighth time in the last 14 seasons, with four innings defeats. Their performance in the Blast offered a glimpse of hope, with five successive victories at the end of the group stage not enough to earn a quarter-final place. The side did reach the quarterfinals of the One-Day Cup for the first-time in 14 years, only to be on of the end of a dominant victory for eventual winners Kent.
In fact, the biggest success of their season was not an achievement of the team, but of an individual. An 18-year-old by the name of Rehan Ahmed, to be exact. After impressing on England under-19s run to the World Cup final in early 2022, Ahmed made his first-class debut against Worcestershire in May. His stock rose further in the final game of the season against Derbyshire, where he struck his maiden first-class hundred, as well as earning his first five-fer. Even on the back of this, nobody could have predicted the winter he would have: he became England’s youngest debutant in all three formats, including a five-fer on Test debut in Pakistan.
The rise of Ahmed offers Leicestershire a bright spark in an otherwise bleak period for the club. Lewis Hill, born and bred in Leicester, has become the new County Championship captain, alongside his 50-over role, replacing Callum Parkinson who could commit to a contract extension. The club find themselves in a similar situation with T20 captain Colin Ackermann, who is also stalling on signing a new contract. They will still represent the team in 2023, with the form of both imperative to any potential upturn in results.
Despite the issues, Paul Nixon and Claude Henderson remain positive about the club’s prospects. Local lad Hill’s role as captain means someone who understands the role the club plays in the wider community is in a position of influence, and able to remind the players they are not just representing themselves, but the city as well. There is a desire amongst the hierarchy to engage more with Leicester’s south Asian community, who came out in force when the club played host to India in a friendly ahead of their final Test match against England last summer.
Ahmed’s rise could be the catalyst for change Leicestershire need, with a £60 million redesign of Grace Road and the surrounding area set to take place over the next five years. There is a whole host of talent on display, including several international-standard cricketers. Chris Wright, with 540 first-class wickets to his name, will play his 20th professional season. The return of Wiaan Mulder is key, after his impressive performances in both the One-Day Cup and the County Championship. Things might just start looking up for the Running Foxes.
Ins: Sol Budinger (Nottinghamshire), Matt Salisbury (Durham)
Outs: Ben Mike (Yorkshire), Hassan Azad, Sam Bates, Nat Bowley, Alex Evans, Gareth Griffiths, Abi Sakande (all released)
Colin Ackermann ended the 2022 season as Leicestershire’s top run-scorer in both the County Championship and the Blast. Despite the ongoing issues around signing a contract extension, there is no doubt that Ackermann will be central to any potential success that the Running Foxes enjoy this season. His influence in the side does not just end at his run-scoring, as he offers a different option with the ball, and opinions worth listening to given the Netherlands international’s role as one of the more experienced and successful pros in the side.
One to watch.
After making his debut for the club in 2021, Louis Kimber used the opportunities provided to him in 2022 to really kick on, and show his worth in this Leicestershire side. Kimber made his maiden first-class and List A hundreds last season, as well as showing his prowess with ball in hand with a four-wicket haul, alongside a half-century, in a One-Day Cup victory against Gloucestershire. A run of three consecutive half-centuries, including his century against Somerset, shows Kimber is a real asset to the side when in form.
Leicestershire have certainly made some shrewd acquisitions with their overseas signings for the 2023 season, with all four having made an impression on the international stage. Peter Handscomb will join the side for the first six rounds of the County Championship, before being replaced by former India Test captain Ajinkya Rahane for the remaining eight round, as well as the One-Day Cup. Mulder has signed a two-year deal with the club for all formats, and will be joined in the Blast by Afghanistan international Naveen-ul-Haq.
Best starting XI
- Rishi Patel
- Sol Budinger
- Louis Kimber
- Peter Handscomb
- Wiaan Mulder
- Colin Ackermann
- Lewis Hill
- Rehan Ahmed
- Ed Barnes
- Callum Parkinson
- Chris Wright
How will they fare?
Rehan Ahmed looks set to be available for the majority, if not all of the County Championship, which will play a big role in the overall mood and mentality of the dressing room, as well as paying dividends on the pitch. They have international-standard batters in their overseas players, but may end up being a pace bowler short if spin does not play a huge role. However, they won’t go the season winless, and will set in motion a move in a positive direction.
The One-Day Cup is where Leicestershire will enjoy the most success. The mental block of struggling to reach the quarterfinals was abolished last season, with the side recruiting well in a competition that will be far down the priority list of many others. A bold prediction of semi-finals at a minimum, given the mix of domestic and international talent set to represent the side.
Ul-Haq is a great signing for the Blast, as the Running Foxes will be able to utilise the part-time pace bowling of Ackermann and Mulder effectively, rather than out of necessity. They look very strong on spin, but it will be their batting where they are let down. An improvement on 2022, but making out of the group will prove elusive.
Opening fixture: Yorkshire v Leicestershire, LV= Insurance County Championship Division 2, Headingley, Leeds, Thursday 6th April to Sunday 9th April
Season odds from Sky Bet:
County Championship: 25/1
Vitality Blast: 33/1
One-Day Cup: N/A