Leicestershire’s Fortunes Finally On The Up?

Again rooted to the bottom of Division 2, it’s been another tough season for Leicestershire and their supporters.

Whilst the Foxes 6-wicket victory against Essex in late May ended a sorry run of results which saw the County go without a Championship win in either 2013 or 2014 – becoming the first team to go through two full seasons without a win since Northamptonshire before World War II – the club was docked 16 points by the ECB in August and has seen a number of young players depart in recent years.

But the additions of veterans Neil Dexter and Paul Horton in the space of a week hint at a brighter future at Grace Road. Or at least signs of intent to try and turn things around.

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That two established players have opted to join Leicestershire is a far cry from the exodus of last autumn, when one day Captain Josh Cobb moved to rival Northants, Nathan Buck headed to Lancashire, Shiv Thakor joined Derbyshire and Greg Smith became the latest in an increasing line to head up the M1 to Trent Bridge.

The quartet represented both the best and worst elements of Leicestershire cricket – good quality development, but an inability to retain talent.

Cobb and co are not the first Leicestershire academy products to head for new pastures, with Stuart Broad, James Taylor and Harry Gurney perhaps the most famous departures. It could be said, quite fairly, that this is the way things should go. That all three have benefited from the move to Nottinghamshire as England call ups followed, and the associated performance bonuses fed back to Grace Road help keep the counties fragile finances afloat.

But losing Cobb to Northants, at the time recently relegated from Division 1, and Thakor to Derbyshire highlighted wider problems.

Cobb, who became the counties youngest ever Championship centurion in 2008, saw greater opportunity for success at Wantage Road, saying “Northamptonshire have proven that they are a winning limited-overs team and have set clear targets to get back into Division One next year. I want to be a part of this”

Whether Northants hopes of a quick return to the first Division were realistic, their one day form has improve dramatically in recent years – winning the T20 Blast in 2013 and finishing runners up this year – while Leicestershire’s has slowly fallen apart since their 2011 twenty20 success.

That Derbyshire, once the butt of many County cricket jokes, could now tempt former England u19 Captain Thakor away from his home town club further underlined the decline. While others were improving, competing, Leicestershire were falling further behind.

The 2015 season has gone little better on the field – though a second win against Derbyshire did come last month – off it there seems to be improvement at last.

Former Derbyshire, Sussex, Warwickshire batsman Wasim Khan MBE succeeded Mike Siddall as Leicestershire and Rutland Cricket Chief Executive in January, with the club increasingly keen to connect with the local Asian community and acutely aware of the need for a more dynamic approach after years of poor results.

The first British Asian to hold such a role, 44-year old Khan oversaw tremendous success at Chance to Shine, and was considered a possible candidate to succeed David Collier as ECB chief executive last year. As administrators go, he was a ‘hot property’ within the English game.

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“I’m certainly hoping things change very quickly at the club in terms of wins, but for me it’s about laying the foundations for sustained success,” Khan told The Guardian after his appointment was announced. “That’s what impressed me during the interview process, there is a brutal honesty among the board of directors about the need to make major changes.”

Khan is seen as the kind of leader who can guide the club to greener pastures. The arrival of former Middlesex Captain Dexter and opener Horton are certainly steps in the right direction.

Despite some consistency issues in recent seasons, 31-year old Dexter has scored nearly 6,000 first class runs at 35.79, and has proven to be a useful medium pace bowler during his seven years at Lords, while Horton had been a stalwart at the top of the Lancashire batting order prior to this season.

If Horton can form a partnership with Angus Robson, Leicestershire’s leading scorer this year with 971 runs, it gives the county a solid foundation from which to build courtesy of an upper order also sporting Australian Mark Cosgrove, Ned Eckersley and Niall O’Brien.

With Dexter also entering the fold, Leicestershire look much more formidable moving forward – particularly with Melbourne native Clint McKay, the clubs leading wicket taker, signing on for two more years.

There is undoubtedly still room for improvement, especially with the club’s bowling attack which has relied heavily on McKay, former Durham seamer Ben Raine and Charlie Shreck, who is approaching 38, this season. But the club is at least addressing its problems.

The counties finances are still a cause for concern for some, but Leicestershire have rarely shied away from trying to attract quality overseas players – with Ramnaresh Sarwan and Pakistan’s Umar Akmal representing the club in recent years – and by adding Horton and Dexter have signalled their intention to haul themselves out of the basement. And a better team will always create greater interest from fans and sponsors.

There’s no doubt Leicestershire will need to play the long game. Their County Championship glory of the mid-90s is well and truly in the past, the gap between Division 1 and 2 wide.

But the very basic ideals of what made the county successful 20 years ago remains. Good development. Paul Nixon and Darren Maddy were not household names by any means, but they both enjoyed success at Grace Road. Dwelling on the past can be counter productive, but it should provide inspiration for Leicestershire moving forward.

Low attendances are undoubtedly a concern, and a lack of financial clout will always make them vulnerable to advances from Nottinghamshire et al trying to lure their best young talent away. But Northants and Gloucestershire, who will take on Surrey in the One Day Cup Final later this month, have demonstrated that small counties can still succeed in limited overs formats – as Leicester once did in twenty20.

With smart veteran signings and continued investment in their underrated development system, Leicestershire could rise again. They could certainly compete for silverware again.

After one of the most tempestuous periods in any counties history, Khan’s appointment may have been the line in the sand the club needed.

Adding Dexter and Horton is certainly a positive sign thing might finally be on the up at Grace Road.

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About Rob

Software engineer by day, Elite League Media man by night, Rob also blogs about cricket for One Stump Short, hockey for In Goal Magazine and video games for Outpost Delta as well as hosting the One Stump Short Podcast.

Posted on September 11, 2015, in County Cricket, Domestic Cricket, Leicestershire and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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