Youthful promise and T20 thrills
Richard III found in a Leicestershire car park? Typical of the county; when we're not reinvigorating Yorkist careers, we're putting a lot of time and money into identifying someone with considerable potential only to be told by the outside world that he'd be better off somewhere 'more high profile'. While ECB payments for the development of Stuart Broad, Luke Wright and James Taylor are very welcome, we'd prefer to hold on to our current rising stars, Nathan Buck, Josh Cobb and England U-19 captain Shiv Thakor, thank you very much.
The state of the county's finances may militate against that. While every county was affected by the weather last summer, Leicestershire rely more heavily than most on sponsorship and T20 income. Failure to qualify for the quarter-finals in the rain in the latter and loss of the former represent a major hole in the budget. New sponsors are on board but there is a real danger that both on and off the field the focus is entirely on the shortest version of the game.
A definitive starting XI, as well as the captaincy, will depend on West Indies' commitments, now that Ramnaresh Sarwan is back in the international fold; in his absence Josh Cobb will take charge at the tender age of 22. Sarwan's batting replacement, Joe Burns, winner of the Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year Award in Australia, will either (in recent experience) score a load of runs and get picked for the Ashes or look like any other Aussie batsman this year.
Whoever is in charge at Grace Road will hope for better luck with injuries than last season, particularly for the bowlers. Wayne White's departure to Lancashire leaves Matthew Hoggard, Nathan Buck and the unlikely spin twins of Jigar Naik and Claude Henderson with most of the work to do, although it will at least speed up the over rate. Anthony Ireland's recent arrival will add another, much-needed option. It was noticeable when he returned from injury in August how important Naik is to the balance of the side, as he often adds useful runs towards the end of an innings, but crucially offers an option in both attack and defence with the ball. Back-up will have to come from Shiv Thakor and the batsmen. The victory against Hampshire effectively summed up the bowlers last season - fantastic for most of the innings, they then contrived to allow the last pair of Chris Wood and David Balcombe to put on 168.
Groundsman Andy Ward received an ECB commendation for his pitches last year. It would help if the batsmen, especially the openers, stopped trying to convince the opposition of how dangerous they are. Will Jefferson was forced to retire in August (one of the county's money-making wheezes, incidentally, is a plan to host the Leicester Riders Basketball team over the winter) and the failure to establish an opening pair who could both score runs in the same innings caused major problems last season - how many counties go through an entire season without a single 50-run opening stand? Niall O'Brien will join Michael Thornely, Ned Eckersley, Sarwan (when he's around), Matthew Boyce, Cobb and Thakor in the batting line-up, with Greg Smith and Rob Taylor as the other options. By all accounts O'Brien has the personality to replace Paul Nixon in the role of hyperactive, noisy, slightly barking wicket-keeper batsman, a gap we haven't really filled yet.
Alarmingly, key players Cobb and Thakor have an average age of 21. Both have played some really fine innings for the county already, and long may that continue. There is a decent chance of progress in the T20; Eckersley, as well as the two mentioned above and even young Tom Wells (whose favourite players are Kieron Pollard and Chris Gayle and he hits it just as hard as they do), are capable of scoring a great deal very quickly and the bowlers have good experience in this format. Better fielding and over rates will do wonders for the Championship results.
Likely Championship side
What I love The county's faith in youth (largely because if I didn't, I'd cry).
What I'd change How about someone devises a system where the development of players, not the ground, gets the rewards?
Tessa Cooke combines watching Leicestershire with the study of Olympians ancient and modern at Leicestershire University. Bowls off the wrong foot