September 22, 2013

County cricket

No wins, but at least we have ice cream

Tessa Cooke
Matthew Hoggard was applauded off the field in his last match, Leicestershire v Hampshire, County Championship, Division Two, Grace Road, 4th day, September 20, 2013
Matthew Hoggard deserved a better send-off than another heavy defeat  © Getty Images
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"Dear Member", begins the letter which dropped onto the mat last week. "I felt I ought to write to you given the disappointing season the Club is having..."

Disappointing, yes, well that's one word for it. How else do you describe the first season in the club's history without a Championship victory? I have heard a number of other adjectives used - some of them printable. Any thoughts we might have had of an unlikely last-gasp victory against Hampshire in a contrived run-chase disappeared before a summer start time; 36 for 5, in the tenth over, with a succession of dismissals that belied the term first-class, I'm afraid, accurately encapsulates the season.

It was a poor send-off for Matthew Hoggard, whose first-class career deserved a more thrilling exit. On the plus side, the sun was out, and he was given both standing ovations and a guard of honour to the crease.

More prosaically, the man with 248 Test wickets, eighth on England's all-time list, had to endure the chairman battling with the technicalities of the microphone's on-switch at the lunch-time presentation. He ended his career not out (thanks to Matt Coles for his invaluable assistance in this statistic), attempting to put on 190 with Alex Wyatt for an unlikely victory.

Does the letter from the club suggest any cause for optimism? Or even any concept of what's gone wrong? On page two there are fourteen bullet points noting the "tremendous amount of work" "done in all areas during the last two years".

If I mention that these include the facts that the catering is now considered "the best on the county circuit" by visiting committee members and umpires (note the order of importance there) and that "an ice cream trolley has been purchased so ice cream is now available at every match", and that these two facts are noted above the fact that the club is free of debt, you might get some idea of priorities.

One priority, and to be fair this point is made heavily, is securing the services of experienced senior professionals who can contribute consistently. This season that should have been Hoggard, Ramnaresh Sarwan, and Claude Henderson, none of whom have played more than seven first-class matches. Add to that the fact that the designated vice-captain, Josh Cobb, has been more noticeable by his absence from the Championship side and you're left with a team of kids all trying to work out how to play first-class cricket at the same time.

While it's fair to say there has been bad luck with injuries, notably to Jigar Naik, the club also need to think about the pros and cons of an overseas player taking up much of the playing budget. When Sarwan was signed for three years, his status in exile from West Indies made it look like a sharp move.

When he made his peace with West Indies and the Caribbean T20 competition became relevant, the idea that he might make get more out of captaining the side at the bottom of the Championship in England than from appearing for his national and provincial sides was naive.

So, am I giving it up as a bad job and taking up membership elsewhere in the East Midlands? The argument that we're developing youngsters is beginning to lose its gloss, but we do have to hang on to it; Ned Eckersley, with a 1000 runs this season (not many have done that despite the decent weather this summer), Ollie Freckingham's bowling and Cobb's outrageous innings in the 40-over game against Somerset are the most obvious pluses.

And...well, I'm struggling for anything other rational reasons, to be honest. Cake? Ice-cream? Cheap membership? These certainly help. Try it another way; would I want to support money-bags counties like Surrey, or nasty player-nicking Nottinghamshire, or Hampshire? Two of those are scrapping to avoid relegation, and the other has spent this season winning precisely as many matches as we did last year, and helping out the Aussies. I'll stay where I am, thanks.

Tessa Cooke combines watching Leicestershire with the study of Olympians ancient and modern at Leicestershire University. Bowls off the wrong foot

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Posted by ArthursAshes on (September 26, 2013, 10:38 GMT)

So, Sarwan is signed up for next year? Question is, will they get a full season out of him or will the Windies call him up again? If so, Leics should look to get out of that contract, they need an overseas player who will be available for the whole season.

Also read that Somerset might be interested in Eckersley as the replacement for Butler. If that were to happen Leics has no batting.

They need to bring in several experienced but not too old pros, an opener, middle order batter or 2, at least a couple of bowlers, to put the youngsters around. Chances are they don't have the money and will anyone who is any good want to come? The Hants loanee all rounder Coles who ran through Leics, is the type of talent available that is needed, but I can't for the life of me see him ever considering it given where Leics are right now.

The youth experiment has largely failed and they are 1/2 years away from losing the best of what's left. Shame to say, but Leics are minor county quality now.

Posted by   on (September 22, 2013, 23:09 GMT)

That match against Essex should be the one the annoys Leicestershire supporters the most. How they lost a match by an innings after being 350-4 at close on the first day is almost a mystery (well one that can be explained by Graham Napier's bowling, but still...)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tessa Cooke
Daughter and sister of two terrifying fast bowlers, Tessa Cooke has been watching her favourite county long enough to remember when the words "Leicestershire", "championship" and "victory" were associated on a weekly rather than seasonal basis. She bowls badly off the wrong foot, ignoring the instructions of her nearest and dearest. A University of Leicester student, her articles may include references to Richard III.

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