Cloudy, with unsettled conditions

Typical, that I should be writing this as wind and sleet hammer at my window.

Last week, Leicestershire played Cambridge MCCU under skies that matched the light blue of the students’ caps. Tomorrow, the season proper begins with a championship match against Glamorgan. Given that storms have been raging up and down the UK all day the chances of a punctual start are looking slim.

I’d like to say that Leicestershire’s prospects this year are bright, but success in the FLT20 aside, last year’s results made for grim reading. Triumph at Edgbaston on Finals Day was a fantastic achievement, a testament to getting one over on the sleeping giants who underestimated them and then going all the way through a combination of never-say-die cricket and indomitable team spirit. It secured the county a place in the Champions League, and along with assistance from some generous benefactors, helped to drag the account books back into the black.

A replication of that success this year is statistically unlikely, although, despite losing James Taylor, Paul Nixon, Harry Gurney, and Andrew McDonald, notable components of that victorious outfit are still with us: Abdul Razzaq will be back for the 6-week campaign, Will Jefferson (if fit) will play his heart out, and never underestimate a team that has Josh Cobb bowling while Matthew Boyce patrols the boundary.

Becoming Twenty20 champions managed to take the sting out of finishing bottom of the Division 2 table of the County Championship.

But to be brutally honest, I’d gladly forgo any future success in T20 for promotion to Division 1. That, to me, and most supporters of county cricket, is the trophy that matters most. I look at what we have lost in terms of personnel and it is discouraging. James Taylor is again in the news, having hit 101* for Nottinghamshire against Loughborough MCCU. In comparison, Leicestershire were beaten in their encounter with Cambridge by 100 runs (granted, the stated intent was always to bat as if it were a four-day rather than a 50-over encounter, but the students seem not to have gotten that memo, accelerating markedly during their last 20 overs to set a total Leicestershire never looked in danger of chasing).

George Dobell wrote an excellent defence of county cricket at Cricinfo, arguing passionately for its preservation and against the raft of ridiculous regulations and requirements that currently hobble it – one such that directly affects Leicestershire this year involves the absence of Andrew McDonald due to the fact he has not played international cricket in the last five years. Dobell also takes well-aimed fire at David Morgan’s proposed cuts to the County Championship programme, and emphasises all that county cricket has given to team England in terms of talent and thus to the game as a whole. He notes, “The smaller clubs contribute just as much. Lowly Leicestershire, surviving on a turnover about 10% that of Surrey’s, have produced the likes of Stuart Broad, Luke Wright, James Taylor and Darren Maddy in recent years. Turn off their funding and that supply line will disappear.”

As a Leicestershire supporter, I’m proud of the success our players have gone on to enjoy. But that doesn’t help us win championships. I find myself with the same mixed emotions as this time last year: as the season starts, I see exciting young talent waiting to be developed and potential waiting to be fulfilled in the likes of Shiv Thakor, Rob Taylor, Greg Smith, and Ned Eckersley, and further Lions honours on the horizon for Nathan Buck, but I also see bigger clubs with bigger cheque-books hovering like vultures at the end of it.

It seems no matter how many England players we produce, we remain that most unfashionable of counties, the one everyone wants to leave. James Taylor has cited as the main reason for his move to Nottinghamshire his desire to test himself against first division bowling. One cannot blame him for making a move that will further his career, but given his talent, that he should have left was always going to be on the cards. Harry Gurney, too, had good reasons for leaving, due to a lack of opportunity in the four day game. But the fact remains that we are currently mired at the bottom of a division that’s regarded by many as a ghetto of losers, has-beens and never-will-bes, and this is why promotion is so vital, if we are to stop losing our best players.

Maybe it’s the weather, but I honestly did not set out to be so gloomy about Leicestershire’s chances this year. Aside from our promising young talents, Ben Smith, the county’s new batting coach, has arrived with a mission to transform Leicestershire’s batting in the four day game, and new signing Ramnaresh Sarwan, still feeling the sting of being dropped from the West Indies setup, is hungry for runs; hopefully the bad weather he’s experienced since he got here hasn’t dampened that zeal.

This year is likely to be another rebuilding year for the Foxes. Tomorrow, when the game against Glamorgan is due to start, the forecast is for overcast conditions but thankfully no rain. Here’s hoping at points during the season we see the sun.

Leics play Cambridge under blue skies

Leics play Cambridge under blue skies

9 Responses to “Cloudy, with unsettled conditions”

  1. Rizwan says:

    Passionately written about Leics… I, too, am from Leicester and it doesnt feel nice to lose top young talent luke we have done. Hope the new crop of young can get us the promotion.

  2. legsidefilth says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Rizwan.

    The best thing about the start of the season is that anything is possible. I like the noises coming out of Grace Rd about extra focus on improving the batting in the championship and team spirit seems to be good. Am even hearing now that today’s play might start on time despite all the rain yesterday. Might see the sun sooner than we think.


  3. Shillingworth says:

    The sky must look a little less fox grey to you today after six wickets for Rob Joseph. Whereabouts in Leicestershire does he come from?

    No, honest. I really am sympathetic. But I would add this footnote … James Taylor was born in Nottingham. He played his school cricket at Shrewsbury. He became the youngest ever centurion in the Birmingham League playing for Kidderminster. His early county experience was with Worcesterhire seconds …

    When he left Worcestershire for Leicestershire, which team would you say resembled a vulture then?

  4. Rizwan says:

    We have made a terrific comeback into the match, under cloudy and overcast conditions. Go Foxes go!

  5. legsidefilth says:

    Hi Shillingworth,

    Yes, we’re very happy to have Robbie Joseph at Grace Road. We didn’t exactly poach him, though, as he was released by Kent in November of last year. If he can stay fit, let’s hope he fills the gap left by Harry Gurney.

    As for James Taylor – he’s a product of the Leicestershire system. He played for Leicestershire and Rutland Under-13s, for goodness’ sake, as well as Loughborough Town. All of his First Class experience has come in a Leicestershire shirt, an MCC shirt, or an England Lions shirt. I think that makes it clear that Leicestershire were the club that nurtured and developed his talent.

    Leicestershire have neither the money nor the cachet to poach players from other clubs, so I definitely wouldn’t say they resembled a vulture at all.

  6. Lolly says:

    Shame about Andrew McDonald, he’s done pretty well at Leics.

    I know how you feel, I’m a West Aus fan and they got to the final of the BBL but I’d far rather they’d got to the final of the Shield. Like Leics, they’ve been shite for years.

  7. Abdul Basit says:

    Well, I’m not from England but I’ve always followed the Domestic competition with some interest. I was impressed by “Little Leicester” actually winning the T20 competition. However, considering that their opponents in the Final were people who choke worse than South Africa in a World Cup Semi-final, I don’t read to much into it. It was just a win.
    However, country cricket is about talent. If all of of Leicester’s talent leaves when they get better, there is no way that they have any chance of getting to Division One
    Which is why the average Leicester fan should appreciate Paul Nixon sticking around.

  8. Shillingworth says:

    He played for the under-13s? Why that practically makes him a native.

    No, I’m sympathetic. I really am. But there are just a couple more hairs I’d like to split …

    First, comparing Nottinghamshire to a vulture is not apposite. Indeed, it would be cheap and easy to point out that Leicestershire, in picking up a player whose career had apparently expired, were behaving like a vulture, which would never prey on a vigorous, live creature (however tiny).

    We can agree that the foxes are not the biggest creatures in the wild wood. But nor are they the smallest. I would guess that in recent seasons Gloucestershire, Glamorgan, Derbyshire and Worcestershire have all operated with smaller payrolls … and one of those has spent most of that time in the first division. The plight of ‘Little Leicester’ would not gain much sympathy in those quarters. When Leicestershire had a team packed with overseas-born players, it seemed Glamorgan could afford none.

    A couple of seasons ago Gloucestershire had the best pace attack in the second division, but it has since been stripped by bigger creatures. Kirby and Hussain went off to Somerset, Ireland to Middlesex, Lewis to Surrey. In the winter of 09-10 alone Worcestershire lost Gareth Batty and Steve Davies to Surrey, Stephen Jones and Kabir Ali to Hampshire and Stephen Moore to Lancs … and then won promotion. (In 07-08 they lost a highly promising England under-19 batsman to big-spending Leicestershire … winky thing).

    Meanwhile, in the past three winters, Leicestershire have lost only James Taylor (to the county of his birth).

  9. Backwatersman says:

    The reason J. Taylor was born in Nottingham was – as he explained in Spin magazine – that “his Mum didn’t like Leicester hospital”. The family home was in Burrough-on-the Hill. He must have made his debut for Maidwell Hall when he was about 8, and that’s just over the border in Northants. Perhaps he should really be playing for them?

    I wouldn’t rule out Leicester getting promoted. With the exception of Yorks (and maybe Hampshire, Essex?)) I can’t see that there’s any side who are much better on paper, which is worrying to the extent that it suggests that the much-anticipated (and, in some quarters hoped-for) concentration of talent in Div. 1 is becoming a reality.

    What worries me a bit is whether the will to be a Div. 1 side is really there. I’ve a slight feeling the some would be happy to act as a nursery for better off clubs, make money from T20 and pick up payments for fielding English-qualified under 25 year olds (which, in purely business terms, might be a sensible strategy).

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