Leicestershire pin hopes on Asian community
A desire to embrace the talent and enthusiasm of the Asian community will be at the heart of Leicestershire's strategy under their new chief executive.
The club have announced that current chief executive, Mike Siddall, is to leave at the end of the season after four turbulent years in the position. While Leicestershire will publish a job advert for a new candidate in the next couple of days, ESPNcricinfo understands that Wasim Khan, currently chief executive with The Cricket Foundation, is a strong favourite for the role.
Khan, who runs the immensely successful Chance to Shine scheme, was believed to be the first British-born player of Pakistan origin to play county cricket and, aged 43, is deemed young, dynamic and exactly the sort of character required to unlock the potential of the large Asian community in Leicester. While he had been seen as a strong candidate for the role of ECB chief executive, which will be vacated by David Collier in September, a period as a county chief executive is viewed as a decent interim position.
The ECB has recently announced an initiative aimed at reviving cricket in inner cities with Leicestershire one of five counties ear-marked for development. While Siddall, who took over the Leicestershire role at a difficult time and has had notable success in seeing the city council lift their covenant on the club's Grace Road ground, he was not necessarily seen as the man to develop relationships with the Asian community.
While Leicestershire have a decent record of producing young players - the likes of James Taylor, Stuart Broad, Luke Wright and Harry Gurney all developed, in part at least, through the club's system - the current on-field record is dismal, attendances remain poor and the relevance of the county to the local community, especially the large inner-city Asian community, is minimal. The ECB is acutely keen to see an improvement.
"We are exploring how to get into the Asian community," Leicestershire chairman, Paul Haywood, told ESPNcricinfo. "Bit by bit, we are trying to break down barriers and yes, looking at the future, that will be a priority of the club."
Leicestershire have, in the past, tried to sign high-profile Asian overseas players - the likes of Virender Sehwag, Anil Kumble and Mohammad Asif - in a bid to attract Asian supporters to the club. But such short-cut methods have proved unsuccessful, leading the club - and the ECB - to conclude that a much deeper cultural change is required from them.
"Bringing in the overseas players hasn't worked in the way we thought it would," Haywood admitted. "And I think Yorkshire found the same when they signed Sachin Tendulkar. We don't think that's the answer.
"Instead, we have decided that the answer is in age-group cricket. The ECB has targeted various inner-city communities and some in Leicester have already been awarded with Clubmark status. Part of our memorandum of understanding with the ECB is to engage more young cricketers from the south Asian community and we intend to be far more proactive to that end."
Leicestershire face a difficult short-term future, though. Without a win in the Championship since the 2012, they may also lose several of its best young prospects to rival counties: the likes of Shiv Thakor, Josh Cobb and Ned Eckersley have so far declined to sign new contracts.
"We don't want to carry on being a feeder club," Haywood said. "We want our players to want to stay as they're part of a winning side. Although the results don't show it, we feel we're showing signs of improvement. The side have forgotten how to win a little bit but they have been in positions to do so four or five times. And our 2nd XI won the T20 competition and top the three-day table. Our foundations aren't built on sand."
Siddall took over as chief executive with Leicestershire reeling from the loss of their coach Tim Boon, their chairman Neil Davidson and their former chief executive David Smith within a few months of one another. His success in seeing the council lift the covenant on the ground and in securing planning permission for 14 apartments on the land should see the club benefit to the tune of up to £90,000 a year in the future. Under the original covenant agreed in the 1960s, the club were obliged to give any proceeds from the land over the value of £24,000 back to the council.
"When I came into the role in June 2010 it was only meant to be on a temporary basis but I realised how serious the club's financial situation was and felt that I could make a difference," said Siddall.
"I am proud of what has been achieved during the last four years on an extremely tight budget. The on-field highlight was the T20 triumph in August 2011 but the loss of seven players from that team was a real setback from which we haven't yet recovered. The re-laying of the outfield in 2011 has also had a massive effect on the quality of the playing surface."
"The full release of the city council covenant on Grace Road has probably been the biggest achievement off the field together with the granting of planning permission for 14 apartments on the Milligan Road side of the ground. However, having to endure the wettest summer for 100 years in 2012 did nothing to help the club's financial recovery."
Leicestershire have also announced a merger with the Leicestershire and Rutland Cricket Board from October 2014. The new organisation, which will be named Leicestershire and Rutland Cricket, will be the governing body for cricket in the region and is in line with changes made at Lancashire and Nottinghamshire designed to streamline the running of the sport and strengthen the relationship between the professional and recreational games.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo