Wasim Khan 'not daunted' by Leics challenge
The outgoing chief executive of the Cricket Foundation charity and the driving force behind the hugely successful Chance to Shine project replaces Mike Siddall as the man in charge at Grace Road, where the three-month search for Siddall's successor has taken place against a backdrop of unprecedented turmoil.
Thrashed by Derbyshire in their last match of the season, Leicestershire established themselves in cricket's annals of ignominy by completing a second consecutive Championship season without a win, the first team to do so since Northamptonshire in the 1930s.
There followed a rush for the exits that saw captain Josh Cobb, fast bowler Nathan Buck, highly rated allrounder Shiv Thakor and opening batsman Greg Smith decide to leave the club, although the tide has been somewhat reversed by Ned Eckersley and Charlie Shreck signing new contracts and Australian fast bowler Clint McKay agreeing to join next summer as overseas player.
Turning around Leicestershire's fortunes might quite reasonably be seen as the toughest job in county cricket yet Khan is not daunted by what lies ahead, despite the wisdom of his choice being queried by many of those whose counsel he sought.
"I've had a great deal of advice over whether this was something I should be doing but every negative that was raised I saw as an opportunity and that attracted me," he said.
"Throughout my life I have wanted to do things that would make a difference and I'm not daunted by the challenge."
And why should he be? He has been flying in the face of supposedly good advice ever since, as a boy growing up in the tough Small Heath area of inner-city Birmingham, where his father worked in a bakery, his elders in the Pakistani community told him he was foolish to think he could play cricket for a living.
"Everyone was telling me that it was a waste of time and I shouldn't be doing it. The phrase I kept hearing was 'It doesn't happen to people like us,'" he said. But he ignored them and after signing for Warwickshire he broke new ground as the first British-born Asian to play county cricket, going on to be part of the team that won the County Championship and a Lord's final in 1995.
It was the same when he revealed ambitions to take cricket into state schools across the land through his work with the Cricket Foundation, yet the Chance to Shine project he pioneered has raised £50 million and introduced cricket to 2.5 million children in 11,000 schools.
"Perseverance and determination are two attributes I have always had, as well as a vision about everything I have wanted to go into," he said. "People said when we started Chance to Shine that it wouldn't work but with resilience and determination we succeeded."
Now 43, Khan is regarded as having the qualities to be a chief executive of the ECB in the future, and had been touted as a candidate to succeed David Collier before accepting the Leicestershire job. The ECB chairman, Giles Clarke, holds him in high regard, although for the moment he feels he should gain a grounding at county level.
"There is a huge amount I still need to do about learning the business of cricket and if I can succeed here I will know I can go into most environments and get results," he said. "This is a great opportunity to get back involved with professional cricket.
"It is a challenge but I have been impressed in my interviews with the honesty of the Leicestershire board. They recognised where the failings were and I knew I was coming into an environment where they wanted change and were ready to support change."
Engaging with Leicester's substantial south Asian community, a nut the county have been seeking to crack for many years in terms of establishing strong, sustainable relationships, both commercially and by unearthing talent, is among Khan's long-term objectives.
His first task, however, will to be confirm the expected appointment of the former Australian Test allrounder Andrew McDonald as head coach after Phil Whitticase's position as director of cricket was scrapped. Whether Whitticase still has a role at Grace Road has yet to be announced.
McDonald, who was a Leicestershire player in 2010 and 2011, will add another competitive Australian voice in the dressing room, along with fast bowler McKay, and there may be a third, with former Glamorgan opening batsman Mark Cosgrove, who can play as a domestic player because he holds a British passport, being linked with the captaincy.
"I want there to be a winning mentality and a steeliness about the place," Khan said. "First of all we need a head coach who is going to inspire and motivate the dressing room. Phil Whitticase did his best but it is the right time for a change."
Khan wants to replace modest ambitions with much loftier aims and will not, for example, encourage the end of the losing streak, whenever it comes, to be seen as an achievement.
"What I don't want is people celebrating when Leicestershire win their first Championship game next year because we have bigger and better ambitions," he said. "The club is debt free and in a position to build for the future. In the next five years I want us to become the biggest county outside those with Test match grounds."