Last week was my final visit to Grace Road for the season, for the Championship game against Gloucestershire. This will not be the last match I’m present at this year – that will be Melbourne in December, for some Antipodean tourney England are participating in – but it was attended with the same familiar, gentle tug of melancholy that I feel every year when I watch cricket in September at my second home.
I’d missed the first day – Leics had notched up 295 – and after a delayed start due to bad light Gloucestershire resumed on 54-2, Nathan Buck having taken the 2 wickets the evening before in a fearsome opening spell. Hamish Marshall was the only man who showed any semblance of resistance with an innings of 61, as Gloucestershire collapsed to 159 all out, and Leicestershire at stumps were cruising nicely on 147-1 with a lead of 283 and young Greg Smith in complete control of the bowling on 70.
Returning to the ground the next day I watched Smith raise his bat upon making a superb maiden 1st class ton – and certainly not his last for the county – and when Matthew Hoggard finally declared at around 3:15 in the afternoon, young Greg was on 158* and Gloucestershire needed 488 to win, ending the day on 78-5.
I have to confess I didn’t quite understand the logic behind the timing of Hoggard’s declaration: 400 would have been more than enough, and he did not seem in any particular hurry even after Smith had brought up his 150; add to that the fact that pretty lousy weather was forecast for Day 4, and there could have been a few faces with egg on them if they’d been unable to knock off the last 5 wickets.
The weather on Friday was indeed bloody awful, but the last 5 were eventually dispatched. Standout performers for the Foxes were of course the lad Smith, England bowler in waiting Nathan Buck, and that redoubtable warhorse Claude Henderson, with help from the county’s next all-rounder in the making, Jigar Naik, but really, it was a top-notch team effort. The result now is that Leicestershire have a mathematical chance of promotion (for “mathematical” read “negligible” but hell, keep hope alive, eh?) as they head to Wantage Road for the last match of the season on Monday.
While I only attended 2 days of the Gloucestershire match, as is usual with my visit to Grace Road, there was more to enjoy than just what was happening on the field. I chatted to the usual suspects, enjoyed the banter, kept my ears pinned for developments on the backroom/board front and on who was going where and who’d been offered what in the shape of a contract for next year. A members’ forum on the Wednesday evening after play yielded no real answers on the current boardroom crisis, though in truth none were expected; recriminations continue to fly back and forth between the board and ex-chief executive David Smith, and the situation remains muddy and unresolved.
With all that hovering in the background I was determined to just enjoy the cricket. The result gave me and the rest of the Leicestershire supporters something to celebrate and the overall goal of promotion is an elusive but tantalising possibility.