Foxes refreshed and ready for Durham

There is everything to play for as Leicestershire CCC enter their ninth round of fixtures of an intriguing Specsavers County Championship campaign.

The Foxes welcome Durham CCC to the Fischer County Ground tomorrow (11am start) having had a few days to take stock of their red ball campaign to date.

With Sussex CCC losing back-to-back games, their lead in third place has been cut to 12 points, and the Hove-based outfit have played at least one more game than everyone beneath them.

To emphasise how incredibly tight the table is, only 20 points separate fourth and tenth, so a win or two would shoot Leicestershire CCC and Durham CCC up the ladder.

The following game for County is at Gloucestershire CCC – another team just above them in the table – so now would be an ideal time to put a couple of strong performances in.

“The division is close, and with a couple of wins we can still get ourselves right into the mix,” said Foxes Head Coach Paul Nixon. “Everyone will be thinking that way.

“We played good cricket in parts at Northampton, got ourselves into good positions, but you can’t drop that many catches and win a match: they should have been all out for 200 or less in their first innings, not 299.

“We didn’t back up the bowlers on that first day, but even so if we’d had a full game we’d have got over the line.

“The good thing is we have had plenty of good performances, including this week in the Second XI. Harry Dearden and Ateeq Javid made double-hundreds for the Seconds this week, and Gavin Griffiths and Callum Parkinson have also been bowling well.

“It has allowed us to let Ben Mike join Warwickshire on loan too in order to get some first division experience. So it’s fair to say we’re in a good place squad-wise as we face two big games in our season.”

Northants CCC built on the solid draw against Leicestershire CCC with a record-breaking victory at Hove this week, while Durham CCC picked up some useful points versus leaders Lancashire CCC at Sedburgh School after beating Sussex CCC in the previous round.

So although these may be seen as a couple of well-used cliches, teams running into form around this stage will be dangerous, and momentum will play a huge part in the rest of the season.

“Everyone is taking points off one another,” said Nixon. “Lancashire and Glamorgan are yet to be beaten, but they have to play each other still. There have been plenty of draws and other teams beating each other.

“The key to Lancashire and Glamorgan being in the top two is playing consistent cricket. If you’re consistent, and you get on a bit of a roll, then you can start moving up the table.

“We’re looking to bring all three facets of the game together at the same time as we did at Sussex and Middlesex. When we do that, we’re very hard to play against.”

County welcome a Durham CCC side that have two familiar faces in all-rounder Ben Raine and batsman-keeper Ned Eckersley, who were both fine players for the Foxes over the years.

The two teams served up a couple of eventful games last term and with a good forecast, it should be another fine spectacle this week.

Durham CCC snatched victory at Emirates Riverside in the final session while in the return game, Muhammad Abbas took five wickets in each innings as the visitors were bowled out twice on the second day.

“It is fair to say we’ve had some lively games against Durham CCC recently,” said Nixon. “We should have won the first game at the Riverside but we learnt a lot from that. Since that game our chases have been a lot calmer and more composed.

“The game here was incredible. To bowl them out twice in what wasn’t even a full day’s day was remarkable. Mo [Muhammad Abbas] was absolutely unplayable on that day. He bowled beautifully, conditions were overcast and very blustery, and everything fell into place for us.

“But this game will be totally different, they have a nice balance to their squad and side, and have been playing some excellent cricket recently. We’re refreshed having had a few days off followed by some good focused practice sessions. We’re ready to go.”

All-rounder Tom Taylor has been ruled out the 13-man squad through injury, so Griffiths and Parkinson will compete for starts along with the XI that drew at Wantage Road in the last game.

Leicestershire CCC (from 13): Horton (capt), Abbas, Ackermann, Azad, Cosgrove, Davis, Dearden, Dexter, Griffiths, Hill (wk), Klein, Parkinson, Wright.