O’Brien eyes lengthy Leicestershire stay
Leicestershire put their faith in Niall O’Brien by giving him a three-year deal, but the 31-year-old sees himself playing for them for twice as long.
The Ireland wicketkeeper-batsman joined in October, leaving Northamptonshire a year before the end of his contract there.
O’Brien told ecb.co.uk that Ramnaresh Sarwan, who was subsequently made Leicestershire’s four-day captain, persuaded the Grace Road county to sign him. Happily for O’Brien, they met his request for a stay beyond 2014.
With a first-class batting average of 36 or more for the last three summers and high standards behind the stumps, Leicestershire will be hoping for another trio of strong seasons.
Speaking exclusively to this website, O’Brien said: “Leicester were looking at a two-year term and I was quite adamant that if I was going to leave - because I had one year left on my Northants contract - I was looking for a bit more security than just a two-year deal. So Leicester were more than happy to facilitate that.
“I think they see me as part of their plans, moving forward, for the next four-to-five, six years. So they were good enough to put that on the table and as soon as that was put on the table it was an easy decision to make.”
Sarwan, this month recalled by West Indies after 18 months out of favour, was by no means the only person at Leicestershire interested in signing O’Brien.
The diminutive Irishman explained that head coach Phil Whitticase, limited-overs captain John Cobb and then four-day skipper Matthew Hoggard were also keen.
“I know Ramnaresh very, very well. I’ve played against him since 2001-02, maybe even earlier,” O’Brien said. “He’s a good pal of mine and I know he was instrumental in my move. He lobbied hard on my behalf. I didn’t have to.
“Overall all were very keen with Phil Whitticase and Josh Cobb as well, and Matthew Hoggard seemed to be fair.”
Sarwan’s call-up for five ODIs with hosts Australia next month could lead to further limited-overs international action in the first half of the English season.
Should he remain out of the Test set-up, however, he is set to be available to Leicestershire after June’s Champions Trophy as well as stints before.
Although Sarwan has never been a regular skipper, he has a smattering of captaincy experience - including nine games for the county last year. O’Brien certainly has confidence in the batsman, who has topped 5,500 runs in Tests and ODIs.
“I know Ramnaresh was very, very keen and I think he captained a few times last year. The boys said he did well with some fresh ideas,” he added.
“I think he’ll do a good job. He’ll lead the way with the bat. He’ll play good aggressive cricket with the bat. With his international experience, with some of the young guys coming through, he will be putting in some good performances on the pitch.”
O’Brien thinks he, Hoggard and Sarwan can combine well with otherwise fairly young players in a team that won three of its last four completed matches last year.
Despite that late upturn in fortunes, Leicestershire came third-from-last in LV= County Championship Division Two, second-from-bottom in their Clydesdale Bank 40 group and at the foot of their Friends Life t20 pool.
“We’ve got a very young team. We would look to improve on performances from last season,” O’Brien said. “The team finished very well last year, winning a few matches with a very young team.
“Hopefully with myself, a fully fit Matthew Hoggard and the new captain Ramnaresh Sarwan, we’ll be able to add that experience and nous to the team with the exuberance of youth and we’ll be able to have a good, competitive 2013.”
In 22-year-old Cobb, Leicestershire are led by a youngster in limited-overs cricket. Having succeeded Hoggard in July, batting all-rounder Cobb ended the season with respectable CB40 and FLt20 statistics.
“Cobby did it last year for a fair bit in the one-day stuff. I don’t think it proved too much of a distraction for him from his game so I think he’ll be just fine,” added O'Brien, who is currently in India for a variety of reasons.
“From the plus point of view they were keen to get Josh in a leadership role sooner than later and this was good experience and the chance for him to take on a whole year’s role and see how he gets on with it as a skipper.
“I’ll be right behind him. He’s a good pal of mine and I’m sure he’s going to do a great job on the pitch and with the captaincy.”