End the small county mentality! That has been the message from new Leicestershire head coach Pierre de Bruyn this winter, and the South African believes a rejuvenated Foxes' squad has taken it fully on board.
“We have completely reviewed the existing culture and the players have totally bought into what the new coaching team of myself, Graeme Welch and John Sadler have put into place,” said the 39-year-old de Bruyn, who was promoted from assistant coach by chief executive Wasim Khan after former head coach Andrew McDonald returned to Australia to take the top job in his home state of Victoria at the end of last season.
“The guys have worked incredibly hard and I feel we're in a much better place, and that was demonstrated on our pre-season tour to South Africa”
“The guys have worked incredibly hard and I feel we're in a much better place, and that was demonstrated on our pre-season tour to South Africa,” said de Bruyn.
“The younger players in particular have massively impressed me with the way they have responded. Adil Ali and Lewis Hill scored magnificent hundreds out there, Tom Wells broke Ricky Ponting's record for sixes hit in an innings at The Wanderers Ground [Wells hit 11 maximums in a 50-over fixture against Highveld Lions], and Zak Chappell again showed he has the potential to play all-round cricket for England.
“I've kept reminding the players and management here that producing England players is a huge part of what we're about, and asking the guys which of them will be the 39th Leicestershire player to represent his country.”
De Bruyn has clearly taken on board concern among the county's members and supporters that, rightly or wrongly, the most promising younger players in the club were not given every opportunity to progress last season.
That said, however, a first-team squad that currently numbers 25 means places will have to be earned through performance. New faces include de Bruyn's countryman Colin Ackermann, who has a first-class average of over 40, signed on a two year deal from Eastern Province, all-rounder James Burke, on a one-year loan from Surrey, 22-year-old former Lancashire pace bowler Gavin Griffiths, and teenage former Derbyshire left-arm spinner Callum Parkinson.
“I look at the bowlers and we have nine guys fighting for four or five places, and while a lot will depend on variables such as the conditions, or on rotation for fitness purposes, clearly there are going to be matches when individuals are unfortunate to miss out,” acknowledged de Bruyn.
“But we've spent the winter challenging every player, senior as well as junior, to step up and improve their skills by at least ten per cent. I've said to the senior guys, look, I respect your careers to date, but now it's time to take responsibility and make match-changing contributions for us here at Leicestershire.
"We've worked very hard on individual techniques and on skill-sets: if you have to bowl a yorker to win a match and you miss it by a foot, then your skills are not in place.”
“I mean no disrespect to the previous regime when I say that it has definitely helped to have all the coaches in place and present. We've worked very hard on individual techniques and on skill-sets: if you have to bowl a yorker to win a match and you miss it by a foot, then your skills are not in place.”
With Australians Mark Cosgrove (2,464 first-class runs at an impressive average of 45.62 in his two years with Leicestershire) and Clint McKay (114 fc wickets, as well as 38 one-day victims, also in two seasons) returning as first-class and one-day captain respectively, de Bruyn believes his Foxes can enjoy their best season for many years.
“Personally I'm very, very excited. The hard work has been done and I've seen a change in mentality. We're better than what we've produced over the last few years and this season we must go out and prove that.”
Leicestershire squad numbers 2017
2 Paul Horton
4 Charlie Shreck
5 Harry Dearden
6 Mark Pettini
7 Gavin Griffiths
8 Angus Robson
10 Callum Parkinson
12 Rob Sayer
14 Aadil Ali
17 Neil Dexter
23 Lewis Hill
25 Richard Jones
27 Clint McKay
32 Zak Chappell
33 Ned Eckersley
35 Will Fazakerley
44 Ben Raine
48 Tom Wells
55 Mark Cosgrove
58 James Burke
60 James Sykes
77 Dieter Klein
84 Colin Ackermann
89 Cameron Delport