After a very disappointing 2007 season, Leicestershire embark of something of a new era in 2008. Over the winter, the amount of comings and goings resembled a new Heathrow terminal and the new arrivals need to be upto the job as they do have big boots to fill.
The most notable of departures over the winter where that of Stuart Broad, David Masters and Jon Sadler. Broad's decision to leave Grace Road for pastures new to Nottinghamshire was predictable but disappointing, for the fact that he moved to our local rivals and that he might have shown some loyalty to the County that coached, nurtured and gave him his big chance. There isn't much room for loyalty in cricket nowadays, as the bigger and richer County's offer astronomical wages to lure the best young talent away from us smaller teams. David Masters' move to Kent was a shock but apparantly there was more to his departure than met the eye and 'Horse' had given great service in four seasons at Grace Road. He will be missed and good luck to the guy. Sadler's move to Derby was predictable as he had been long made the scapegoat by Tim Boon during the last couple of seasons, despite being one of our best batsmen. He never quite fulfilled his undoubted talent though and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him blossom at Derby in new surroundings.
Also leaving the club at the end of the season were Mansoor Amjad, Darren Robinson, John Maunders, Arno Jacobs, Paul Harrison, Marc Rosenberg, David Stiff and Jerome Taylor. Amjad returned to the County as a full time overseas player for 2007 and once again failed to make much of an impact and found himself left out of the side on a number of occasions and the decision not to ask him back for 2008 was hardly a surprise. Last season's Championship skipper Darren Robinson was released after being stripped of the captaincy and demoted to the seconds at the back end of last season. Maunders, despite impressing being a regular last season, was surprisingly let go and can count himself unlucky not to have been rewarded with a new contract. He recently signed a contract to play Minor County cricket for Shropshire. South African Jacobs, who joined midway through the season on a Kolpak after playing for Scotland, never found his feet and left the club after an unmemorable spell. Paul Harrison, despite some exciting cameo's, never looked anymore than a pinch hitter and his release was not much of a surprise as were the departures of Marc Rosenberg and David Stiff. Rosenberg did briefly shine in the Championship before disappearing back into second team cricket and Stiff never appeared for the first team after rarely impressing for the seconds. West Indian, Jerome Taylor, who came in for a spell as overseas player at the back end of the season and did a decent job with the ball aswell as providing a few entertaining knocks with the bat.
With all of the departures, much work needed to be done to bring in quality players over the winter. The announcement of Boeta Dippenaar as overseas player signalled the realisation that the County required an overseas batsman. Although not a household name, Dipeenaar is vastly experienced at both test and one-day international level for South Africa and with an average of over 42 in both first class and one-day cricket, hopeful bucket fulls of runs are on the horizon. The next three signings for the Foxes were hardly ones to get excited about, although two of the them were signed with one eye firmly on the future. Joel Pope, a wicketkeeper arrived after coming thorugh the MCC Young Cricketer system and 18 year old opener James Taylor, one of England U-19's top batsmen, joined the club from Worcestershire. Despite the fact that Taylor was born in Nottingham and attends Shrewsbury School, he was raised in the Melton area and will be available for selection at the back end of June after completing his A-Levels. Nadeem Malik, who left Worcestershire at the end of 2007, was a predictable signing and after a unfruitful time at New Road, it is hoped that he can recapture the promising form he displayed as a youngster with Nottinghamshire.
After a worrying period of time without a major signing, the County made their intentions clear with two impressive signings. South African Dillon du Preez and West Indian Jermaine Lawson both signed as Kolpak players and will form an exciting new pace attack with Garnett Kruger, who thankfully agreed a contract extension over the winter. Du Preez, who was the leading wicket taker in South African domestic cricket this year with 55 victims is also a handy lower order batsman and if he fulfills his promise then he could turn out to be one of the singings of the season. Lawson who has shown he can be a top bowler on the world stage with the West Indies, completes an impressive pace attack and if he can show the form he is capable of then he could be another gem of a signing.
Also joining Leicestershire's squad are batsmen Jacques du Toit and Ed Foster. South African du Toit, has been the outstanding player for the Foxes second team over the last couple of years and is now English qualified through residency. Having played first class cricket for Easterns in South Africa, Jacques had also been plying his trade in the Anglian league with Cambridge Gramma. Foster joined the County just before the start of the season and is a opening batsman who has played for Worcestershire Seconds, Loughborough UCCE and joined the Foxes from Minor County outfit Shropshire. Both of these players will provide back up for the first team and only time will tell whether they have what it takes to make it at first class level.
From the existing staff, some younger players look set to be given the chance to emerge. Matt Boyce, who has come up through the County's academy, will be given the chance to open with Tom New and is something of a late developer as he is approaching the age of 23. Comparisons could be drawn with Darren Stevens, who was at a similar age before making the breakthrough, although both players style differs greatly. Ryan Cummins, who has shown, in patches, great promise over the last couple of years and 2008 is now the time for him to push on and become a regular. Spinner Jigar Naik is well thought of at Grace Road and after wintering in South Africa under the watchful eye of former County seamer Gordon Parsons, he will be looking to a more regular starter this year. Dan Rowe, who made quite an impact last season before fading, will be hoping to enhance his reputation as a potential all rounder.
Alot of responsibility will fall on the shoulders of the seasoned pro's like HD Ackerman, Claude Henderson and Paul Nixon who can produce top class performances. HD will be the first to admit that he under performed last season but as everyone knows, he is a fantastic batsman and will no doubt be back in the runs soon. 'Nico' begins his first full season as captain and his passion and motivation can only rub off on the other players and being the skipper will suit him perfectly. Claude, who is now player-coach is very much 'Mr Reliable' and for me should always be one of the first names on the team sheet.
Expect big seasons from Tom New and Jimmy Allenby. Both batsmen had their first full seasons for the County and did not disappoint with New scoring just shy of 1,000 Championship runs and Allenby impressed with both bat and ball. New will be looking to continue his good form and Allenby will be hoping to improve once again and he has the all round talent to go along way in the game and become one of the Foxes star players. Allenby has also been rewarded with a new contract that sees him as the clubs vice captain.
The bowling attack looks very impressive and it now seems like the County might be able to bowl out teams consistently but on paper the batting line up looks under strength and very thin on the ground and if a few injuries were to occur, one would start to worry if we could find six batsmen! We most definitely need big seasons from our big guns, like HD and Dippenaar and if the other members of the side can fulfill their potential then Leicestershire could spring a few surprises this season.