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Shallow roots to Leicestershire growth

Essex 13 for 2 trail Leicestershire 238 (Cosgrove 71, Robson 52, Porter 4-50) by 225 runs
Scorecard

These are puzzling days at Leicestershire.

On the face of things, this season has offered impressive improvement. After years among the 'also runs' of the County Championship, here they are in late-August with a realistic chance of promotion. Going into this game, they were second in the table. If that sounds modest, it has to be remembered that they have not played in the top division since 2003 and did not win a single game in this division in 2013 and 2014. The improvement is welcome.

The ground has improved, too. There are floodlights, new broadcasting facilities and improved stands. All of it is welcome.

But scratch beneath the surface and you are left wondering how deep the roots of this recovery stretch. The only man in this side (Lewis Hill) who could indisputably claim to be 'home grown' was making his first Championship appearance of the season and none of the top four were born in the UK.

That is fine, up to a point. The addition of seasoned professionals may well have been required to alter the culture of a club that had become accustomed to losing. Their attitude and experience alongside some local talent could shape the future of the club.

But there's the rub. Because the local talent isn't getting a game. Instead Atif Sheikh, a left-arm bowler of rare pace, has been released, Jigar Naik is seemingly sentenced to a future in the seconds, Aadil Ali, about whom there was such hope ahead of the season, hasn't played a first-class game since June and Zak Chappell, a promising fast bowler, here missed out to 27-year-old Dieter Klein, a journeyman South African making his first-class debut for the club who nabbed Alastair Cook as a notable maiden Championship wicket.

Of course there is a balance to be struck. Of course young payers cannot be flung into the side without support. Of course in these mobile, multi-cultural times you would expect a team based in a city like Leicester to host players with wildly varied backgrounds. Of course the likes of Angus Robson, who here compiled a patient half-century, could go on to provide years of service for the club and be seen as Leicester through and through.

But for five of this team to be born in Australia or South Africa and only one to have progressed through the club's system suggests that balance has not been found. And for all the talk of embracing the local Asian community, there is no Asian face in the side here and very few in the stands. The two are probably connected.

Leicestershire could claim, with some justification, that several players who developed through the club and might be playing for them even now (Stuart Broad, James Taylor, Greg Smith, Harry Gurney and Luke Wright, among others) had larger clubs not enticed them elsewhere. But Essex could say much the same. They have lost Adam Wheater, Reece Topley, Ben Foakes, Tymal Mills, Varun Chopra and Mark Pettini among many others. Yet they still fielded a side containing eight home grown players here.

Most of all, Leicestershire could claim that it was always going to take time to turn things around here. So deep was the descent into mediocrity and irrelevance that it was always going to take years to produce a locally resourced, competitive side that reflected its local community. They are not so far into the rebuilding process that a judgement can yet be made as to its effectiveness.

It would have been nice to put these points to the club's head coach, but Andrew McDonald declined the interview request until the end of the match. Perhaps Leicestershire are happy with an attendance of 800 (their highest Championship gate of the season) and the absence of independent coverage? Or perhaps the club are reluctant to put McDonald into a tricky position while his future remains uncertain. Despite having a contract with the club until the end of 2018, rumours linking him with a full-time return to Australia continue. He has already taken the Melbourne Renegades position; the Victoria role remains open. Some well-placed sources expect an announcement within days.

And it needs to be asked how much have Leicestershire really improved under him? Or have they just plugged the holes with imports? Are they really any different now to the side that was ridiculed for filling itself with Kolpak registrations? If they are going to fulfil a role for English cricket - and they have a fine history of doing just that - they have to grow their own or improve those who were unloved elsewhere. In two or three of this side - Ned Eckersley, Robson and Ben Raine - they have such players. But there is a huge amount of room for improvement.

They didn't have a bad day here. Put in on a green track that had been used for a previous Championship match, they found themselves on a hat-trick in the first over from Jamie Porter. Paul Horton played around one that may have nipped in and Neil Dexter was caught on the crease by an inswinger.

But Mark Cosgrove and Robson added 129, with Robson showing admirable patience - he scored three from his first 38 deliveries - and Cosgrove feasting on anything on his legs to provide the foundations of a decent score on what Leicestershire say they hope is "a result wicket."

Both were troubled by the pace of Graham Napier. Still able to coax life out of a slow pitch even a few weeks from retirement, Napier produced a bouncer that took Cosgrove's glove and ballooned just over Cook's head in the slips - Cook appeared to get a hand to the chance but could not cling on - and eventually defeated Robson with a fuller ball that seemed to surprise him with pace. It was the eighth time this season Robson had made a half-century but he has been unable to convert any of them into a century.

Pettini was bowled leaving one that nipped back before Eckersley saw the ball dribbled off his bat and onto his stumps as he dropped his hand on an off-break from Tom Westley. By the time Cosgrove was bowled by a lovely, swinging yorker - his attempt to whip it through midwicket resulted in a lost middle stump - he was only four short of 1,000 Championship runs for the season.

Leicestershire also enjoyed a couple of early wickets in reply. Cook, playing his sixth Championship match of the season with a view to helping top-of-the-table Essex secure promotion, was bowled by a full, swinging ball that clipped his off stump, before the nightwatchman, Porter, was adjudged - somewhat unfortunately, it appeared - to have been given out caught behind off the glove.

So their promotion hopes remain alive. But, long term, you wonder what progress has really been made with this team.