September 14, 2001

Great expectations for the Fox from afar

Right now, he's half a world away from Grace Road. But, for Daniel Marsh, physical separation doesn't necessarily equate to emotional separation from the Leicestershire Foxes' bid to claim their first National League title in 24 seasons this Sunday.

Back at home in Tasmania after a three-month stint as a county import, Marsh is enjoying life as he recovers from the cheekbone injury that shattered his English season.

But, with nigh-on just 24 hours remaining before Leicestershire's crowning match of the summer, he can't help feeling a few pangs of frustration. That he is not still in England for the conclusion of an impressive one-day campaign that he helped to kick-start nearly five months ago is a cruel blow.

"I'm still following their fortunes really closely," says Marsh of the players he now knows as teammates after taking over from Anil Kumble as the team's overseas professional this year.

"I look on the Internet every day and see how they're going. Obviously, I've got some really good mates there now so I stay in touch regularly."

"I'd love still to be there and be a part of what they're aiming at, especially because I was there for three months of day-to-day cricket. To be taken away from that was very hard. If the team wins on Sunday, it'll be a good reward for everyone involved at the club. Hopefully, they can do it."

Leicestershire's progress in the National League this season has proved a classical rollercoaster ride. Matters didn't start propitiously: the side found itself at a scoreline of 5/14 in its very first match against Gloucestershire before it somehow climbed off the canvas to win. Alongside an equally impressive run which took the club all the way to the Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy Final, five victories from the next six games then followed to leave the side on the brink of claiming only its second-ever League crown.

But the tide has turned dramatically again in the last month with only two wins coming from the last five fixtures. It all ensures that the Foxes now need either to win at Nottingham on Sunday - or hope that Kent loses to Warwickshire - to be confirmed as champions.

"It seems like the guys haven't been playing their best cricket over the past two or three weeks and that's obviously to do with the pressure of trying to win this competition," adds Marsh. "But, if they can play anywhere near their ability, they should hopefully beat Nottinghamshire and win the title."

When it became clear back in December that coach Jack Birkenshaw's quest for a new import had netted the club the son of former Australian wicketkeeping icon Rodney, the revelation was greeted with surprise in some quarters. By contrast, those who knew Marsh's game well realised it was a heady selection. Although he still remains underestimated in Australia, the 28-year old was Tasmania's Player of the Year in 1999-2000 and has offered the state consistently impressive contributions ever since crossing from South Australia in 1996-97.

After a nervous start with scores of 0 and 5 in the team's final warmup match, he was duly a tower of strength in the nine first-class and 11 limited-overs appearances that represented his first foray into county competition. He found a formula for success quickly, tailoring his powerful batting and accurate left arm spin bowling to suit pitches which almost universally played lower and slower than those to which he is accustomed at home. His performance against Nottinghamshire - in which he hammered out an unbeaten 67, claimed 4/44, and held two catches - might even be remembered as one of the most complete individual efforts produced by any county player this season.

Moreover, he was very much at the heart of the county's inspired start to the National League season. It was no mere coincidence that Leicestershire won all five of the games in which he participated. Only with the advent of his freak injury - while fielding at second slip in a Championship match against Surrey in early July - was the gloss removed from the tale.

"We'd just taken the second new ball ... Ian Salisbury was batting, went to let one go, but it just hit the face of his bat and landed about a metre in front of me. I went down to try and stop it but it just took off and came straight into the side of my face."

"Ultimately, I realised something wasn't quite right, went and had it checked out, and sure enough it was broken. The doctor basically said I wasn't going to be able to play for eight weeks."

Pakistan's Shahid Afridi nevertheless helped the team to more League wins upon his appointment as a hurriedly organised replacement, and what looked a near-impregnable lead was duly maintained until deep into the summer. General reversals in confidence and form have threatened to undo all the hard work but the club still remains in the box seat to emerge as the competition's Division One winner.

In short, it's now a case of attempting to add the final touch to a memorable campaign. And one thing's for sure if the result does go the Foxes' way on Sunday: the excitement will spread far beyond those at Grace Road. Half a world away, in fact.