This is tempting fate, and I’ve resisted saying it before, but it has to be said: there has been a good feeling around Grace Road this April. This ought to go without saying. Why would there not be a good feeling at any cricket club in April (apart from in the “England camp“, where, presumably, the atmosphere is one of introspection and paranoia, as Cook and Moores – poor sods – “hammer out their values“)? The slate is still clean, all things are still possible and there is pleasure still to be had in speculating on what might be (if, if only) as opposed to what might have been. And, of course, at Grace Road, as at any self-respecting ground, the flowerbeds in front of the pavilion are in full bloom.
Leicestershire’s delayed entry into the Championship (the sad postponement of the Derby game meant that they did not play a competitive game until 20th April) has, I think, helped not only to recall echoes of yesteryear (when it was all but impossible for a side to be out of the running by the end of May) but meant that they have arrived on the scene in at least second gear. Following on from two friendly matches for the First XI and two (apparently hard-fought) intra-club matches, the Second XI friendly against Derbyshire was used to give most of the prospective First XI another runout.
This blog can, in passing, now claim to span two generations. In the first post I wrote about cricket one of the few players I mentioned by name was Dominic Cork. Opening the bowling for Derbyshire 2s in this match was his son, 19-year-old Greg (or Gregory Teodor Gerald, to give him his full name). He is another left-armer (so, no doubt, someone will soon be proposing him as England’s answer to Mitchell Johnson). Another left-armer is Rob Taylor, who, in April 2009, was turning out mainly for Harborough and threatening the homeowners of Fairfield Road with the fury of aerial bombardment as an opening batsman. Since then he has progressed through the 2nds of both Leicestershire and Northants, Loughborough MCCU and Leicestershire’s 1-day side to international recognition with Scotland. I have always seen him as much as a batsman as a bowler and I was delighted to see him given the chance to prove me right with 164* against Derbyshire (less good news, though, for the homeowners and insurers of Milligan Road).
Taylor being given the chance to show what he can do with the bat would be one of the “if onlies” I spoke of earlier. Others would include Smith and Boyce putting on 100 for the first wicket, Eckersley maintaining last season’s form, Josh Cobb at last finding some way of integrating his 1-day style into his 4-day cricket, Jigar Naik avoiding self-inflicted injuries in the field and Charlie Shreck having some kind of extended Indian Summer, in the style of Richardson or Chapple. Some enterprising Captaincy would help too.
Almost miraculously, it now seems, all of these hopes were fulfilled in the first home match against Glamorgan. Leicestershire made 500 in their first innings for the first time that I can remember since that glorious day at the Oval when James Taylor milked Andre Nel and his strutting cronies to the tune of a double hundred.
Shreck looked sharper than I remember him appearing at Kent, Naik (I’m told) was threatening on the fourth day and emerged from the match unscathed and Captain Cobb demonstrated some awareness of the need for quick scoring and shrewd declarations if 16 points for a win are to be achieved.
It seems a shame to allow facts to cast a shadow so early in the season, but it is true that we haven’t actually won a match yet. Bowling the opposition out twice quickly may prove difficult (which is why the art of the strategic declaration assumes such importance). Ronnie Sarwan (the official Captain) hadn’t made it to England in time for the first two matches. He will, no doubt, contribute runs; let us hope he also provides decisive leadership. It is also true, alas, that, if what we are seeing is the coming to ripeness of the group of young players whose fortunes I have been following over the last five years, then ripeness may well (as the poet hath it) be all. The contracts of Cobb, Eckersley and Thakor (amongst others) are up at the end of the Season and it may, unfortunately, be other Counties who reap what we have sewn. But enough of such dark thoughts. There is a good feeling at Grace Road for now and that has been rare enough in recent times.
And not only at Grace Road. Harborough have (in circumstances I am not privy to) lost seven senior players since last season and are facing the new campaign with a team much younger even than Leicestershire, their totem and stalwart Kevin Innes unable to contribute with the ball and unable, the Saturday before last, to put out a 2nd XI. But necessity (to resuscitate another old cliche) can be the mother of innovation and they took the field against a muscular and much-fancied Syston side last Saturday with one seamer (celebrating his 17th birthday) and four youthful spinners. Suicidal so early in the season? Well, not if you have a hand in preparing the wicket and Kevin Innes can still bat. We won shortly after 7.00, as the sun set behind the Pavilion.
In August these early evening sunsets and lengthening shadows provoke bitter-sweet thoughts of “dying falls” and ever-encroaching Winter. In Maytime, though, evenings can (to paraphrase somebody or other) only get lighter and – my word – don’t you bet poor Moores and Cook wish they were young again and heading off for a few barely legal beers in the clubhouse after a famous victory rather than bracing themselves for a shellacking from the Press (not to mention the cats’ chorus on Twitter) after an indifferent display against Scotland? Still wish Rob “Roy” Taylor the best of luck, though.