Summary of season
2023 has been a tumultuous year for the Foxes with the high of winning the One-Day cup, alongside the disruption caused by the departure of head coach Paul Nixon following a disastrous Blast campaign. Alongside this they have had one of their better red ball seasons, maintaining an interest in the promotion battle right up until the final weeks of the competition. The departure of Nixon in the middle of the season might have had a negative impact on the club, but it was followed by a successful One-Day cup competition and much credit must go to James Taylor and Alfonso Thomas who stepped up to act as joint coaches.
Nixon has been associated with the Leicestershire since his debut as an 18-year-old back in 1989. He had three years at Kent between 2000 and 2002, but returned in 2003 and was at the forefront of their three T20 titles, the final in 2011 being his last game before retiring. He was captain of the club between 2007 and 2010 and was appointed head coach at the end of the 2017 season. During his time at the helm there have been some tough periods, with a winless Championship season in 2022, but they have continued to have some success in white ball competitions. However, Nixon was placed on gardening leave at the end of June, following an announcement of the departures of club stalwarts Colin Ackermann, Callum Parkinson and Chris Wright at the end of the season and at the time Leicestershire’s chief executive Sean Jarvis was quoted as saying that he would be “investigating comments and allegations”. Nixon’s permanent exit was confirmed on the 6th July.
Despite the upheaval, Leicestershire had one of their best seasons for a while on the pitch. They made an immediate impact in the Championship, defeating relegated Yorkshire up at Headingley in the first round of matches. A century from Rishi Patel in the second innings, the first of four during the season, helped them chase down 389 and he went on to score 1075 championship runs over the summer. At the end of June, Leicestershire sat in second place in Division Two having beaten Gloucestershire and lost to Worcestershire alongside five draws. However their challenge for promotion faltered in the latter half of the season as they suffered another loss to the Pears, as well as going down to Sussex (failing by just 16 runs having been set a target of 499) and Durham. The middle order was productive, Colin Ackerman scoring 987 runs at 49.35, Lewis Hill 880 at 40.00 and Peter Handscomb 681 at 45.40. Chris Wright was the main threat with the ball, taking 48 wickets at 27.43 and 24-year-old all-rounder Tom Scriven made an impact with 39 wickets at 23.87. England leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed was less productive with just eight wickets in his nine games, making more of an impression with the bat, scoring 529 runs at 35.26. Leicestershire eventually finished in a creditable fourth place.
The Foxes have enjoyed a lot of success in the T20 competition since its inception, but could manage just two wins in 2023. Afghanistan pace bowler Naveen-ul-Haq was re-signed after two successful seasons in which he took 50 wickets at an average of 16.9. However his appearance was delayed due to involvement in the Indian Premier League play-offs and Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah was recruited for the start of the campaign. Unfortunately the combination took just eight wickets in their ten games at 37.13 with an economy of 8.03. Callum Parkinson was the most effective bowler with 17 wickets and Patel’s prolific form continued, ending the competition as the leading scorer for the county with 390 runs. Wiaan Mulder scored 306, but there was far too much inconsistency in the level of performance.
While the Blast was a disaster, it was quite the opposite outcome in the One-Day cup. Leicestershire lost Parkinson and Ahmed to the Hundred and Ackerman missed some games following a late call up to the Southern Brave. However, Handscomb and Mulder played the majority of the matches and finished with 401 runs at 57.28 and 374 at 62.33 respectively. Sol Budinger made up for a poor red ball season with 398 runs at 39.80.
Leicestershire lost just one of their group games, going down to Nottinghamshire in a rain affected match, but bounced straight back with a county record List A score of 411/6 against Lancashire. Wright again led the attack, ending as the competition’s second highest wicket taker with 18 at 28.33. 18-year-old Josh Hull also stepped up, taking 17 wickets at 24.23. Scriven and Mulder took 14 wickets each and the attack helped secured a comfortable win against Gloucestershire in the semi-final, dismissing the opposition for just 125.
In the final they came up against Hampshire, who started the game as most people’s favourites. Both sides stuck with the players who had taken them through the competition, even though Hampshire were missing Dom Kelly and Eddie Jack, away on England Under-19 duty. Leicestershire chose to bat first, but were soon in trouble at 19/4 and 42 from captain, Lewis Hill seemed only a temporary reprieve as they slipped to 89/6 after 21.1 overs. At this point Harry Swindells joined Sam Evans at the crease. Evans is normally an opening batter and had come in to replace Handscomb, following the Australian’s return home, while Swindells was brought in to extend the batting and take the gloves in place of Hill. Swindells has had a tough few years, omitted from the Championship side due to some fallibility with his glove work, although he had made some appearances in the Blast. The seventh wicket pair put on 151 off 160 balls, Evans making 60 and Swindells ending on 117 not out from 96 balls. The target of 268 still looked very manageable for the Hampshire and most of the batters made a start, Tom Prest and Liam Dawson reaching half centuries. At the start of the 44th over 51 were needed from 42 deliveries, with five wickets in hand, Weatherley (40) and Dawson (57) at the crease, but the stand came to an end on 82 when Weatherley swept Ackermann to sub fielder Will Davis at deep square leg. 25 were needed from 19 when Ian Holland scooped Mulder to Hull at fine leg, but Hampshire still seemed favourites with 11 needed from the last two overs and Dawson still at the crease. Wright conceded just three runs in the penultimate over leaving young Hull to defend a lead of seven. He was up to the job, removing Dawson with the third ball and Hampshire managed just five singles. Celebrations went on into the night!
Vitality Blast: Bottom North Group
LV= CC: Rishi Patel 1075 at 44.79
Vitality Blast: Rishi Patel 390 at 27.85; Strike rate 146.61
RLODC: Peter Handscomb 401 at 57.28; Strike rate 79.40
LV= CC: Chris Wright 48 at 27.43
Vitality Blast: Callum Parkinson 17 at 23.29
RLODC: Chris Wright 18 at 23.22
Player of the season:
The big positive for Leicestershire this season has been the continued development of Rishi Patel and although the stylish opener is a product of Essex’s academy, it is since his move to the Midlands in 2020 that he has now started putting runs on the board. In 2022 he scored 418 championship runs at 27.86 not reaching the 50 mark, but this year he has passed a 1000 runs. He was also the county’s top run scorer in the Blast, albeit in a losing cause. The good news for Leicestershire supporters is that he has signed a new contract, extending his stay for a further two years.
At 18 years of age Josh Hull is just learning the game and got the taste of championship and T20 cricket in 2023. However in the One-Day cup he flourished, his left arm seam profiting by him standing 6ft 7in tall. He took his 17 wickets with an acceptable economy rate of 5.74 and bowled the vital last over in the final. His physical attributes will undoubtedly attract attention and he is already on England’s radar, featuring for the Young Lions Invitational XI’s three-day match against Sri Lanka U19s in August 2022.
Could have done better
Undoubtedly the big disappointment was the showing in the Blast and the club would have expected more from their two overseas quicks, Naveen-ul-Haq and Naseem Shah. The batting stuttered and Ackerman had a disappointing competition. Ahmed will also be hoping that he bowls on some more friendly championship wickets in 2023 if he is to push for further England recognition in the red ball format, his eight wickets coming at 66.12.
Need to work on
We wait to see what decisions will be made regarding a permanent appointment to the head coach position. Thomas had been the bowling coach under Nixon and Taylor the batting coach and the combination certainly enjoyed success in the One Day cup, even if they could not build on the early season red ball promise. The nature of Nixon’s departure suggested some internal problems and it is not known whether these contributed to the departures of Parkinson and Ackerman. However, since the end of the season it has been announced that 38-year-old Wright is no longer moving to Sussex and has resigned for Leicestershire on a two year contract. The club will be hoping for some stability in the coming seasons.
Leicestershire have the services of Handscomb and Mulder for the 2024 season, giving them some stability to the line up. The loss of Ackerman will leave a big hole, but they will be relieved to have retained Wright. A number of other players have been released at the end of their contracts: fast bowler Will Davis, seamer Ed Barnes, batters Nick Welch and Scott Steel and all-rounder Arron Lilley. Seamer Michael Finan is also leaving after he and the Foxes mutually agreed to end his contract a year early. Liam Trevaskis has been recruited from Durham as a like-for-like replacement for Parkinson, who moves the other way. Wicket-keeper Ben Cox also comes in from Worcestershire, putting the hero of the One-Day cup final, Swindell’s position under threat, although it is understood he is in contract talks with the club.
Any time you win a trophy, particularly considering some of the dark years Leicestershire have had in recent times, the season has to be deemed a successful one and this was backed up by a solid performance in the Championship. The Blast is best forgotten about!