Leicestershire have two chances remaining to avoid the indignity of completing a second season in a row without a win in the Championship and they look to have blown the first already. Bowled out for 138, a starkly embarrassing effort redeemed in part only by Dan Redfern’s unbeaten half-century, they are already 15 runs behind and Essex have lost only three wickets, with Ravi Bopara and James Foster looking ominously well set.
Losing the toss was not helpful, given that there was grass on the pitch and cloud cover. The ball nipped around as was to be expected, but there was some fairly undistinguished batting.
Then again, it must be a challenge for these players to walk on to the field with much confidence, given the county’s current state. Apart from the difficulty of trying to recall how it feels to win a four-day match, an experience denied them since 14 September, 2012, they may wonder who among them has mentally jumped ship. Shiv Thakor and Nathan Buck, neither of whom is playing in this match, have already announced they will be elsewhere next year; Ned Eckersley, Josh Cobb and Greg Smith have still to decide.
The future off the field is in the air as well. Mike Siddall is standing down as chief executive, with Wasim Khan, the chief executive of the Cricket Foundation and the driving force behind Chance to Shine, touted as a possible successor. Meanwhile, Neil Davidson, whose seven-year reign as chairman ended amid acrimony in 2010, is seeking re-election to the board.
Essex, looking to extend a run of four wins in five matches as they seek to pip Hampshire and join Worcestershire in winning promotion to the First Division, could probably not have picked a better time to come. They have no Ryan ten Doeschate, who has gone off to play for Kolkata Knight Riders in the Champions League T20, but the medium pace of Jesse Ryder was more than sufficient, the New Zealand all-rounder finishing with a career-best 5 for 50.
Defeat in this match would leave next week’s trip to Derbyshire between Leicestershire and an unwanted place in the record books as the first team to go two seasons without a victory since Northamptonshire in the late 1930s. That side managed to avoid winning for an extraordinary 99 Championship matches between May 1935 and May 1939, a run that ended, as it happens, with an innings victory over Leicestershire.