Ahead of Leicestershire’s first 50-over final in 22 years, club captain Lewis Hill and chief executive Sean Jarvis tell Ben Gardner what is driving the club both on and off the field.

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Two days in, and the biggest week in Leicestershire County Cricket Club’s modern history has begun in inauspicious fashion.

Sunday starts with them hanging onto Worcestershire’s coat tails in the Division Two promotion race, knowing that a victory with full bonus points will bring them level second with two games to play. On the Saturday, they’ll be contesting the Metro Bank One-Day Cup final against Hampshire, looking to end a wait for 50-over silverware that stretches back to 1985. And with half the game gone at Hove, Leicestershire have been skittled for 106, with Sussex well on their way to setting a target one run shy of 500.

Still, as those who call Grace Road their home know, things could always be worse. “I’ve seen the dark days,” club captain Lewis Hill says, speaking to Wisden.com ahead of the Sussex clash. “There’s been many a season when we haven’t won a game. It’s great to get to September with two competitions up for grabs, to be honest with you.”

Leicestershire have finished bottom of Division Two in eight out of the last 12 regular county seasons. In four of those, they have failed to secure even a single win. Hill made his debut in 2016, in the midst of the darkest of these stretches. Had Leicestershire failed to beat Essex in what was Hill’s fourth first-class game, their winless streak would have extended past the 1,000 day mark. He swung a six over square leg to tie the scores, before nudging a single into the covers. BBC Radio Leicester’s Richard Rae narrated the winning moment in tears.

Hill took on the captaincy in the off-season after another winless campaign, with Callum Parkinson removed from the role after declining to sign a contract extension. Rather than set any results-driven targets, Hill wanted to see a little belief from his new side. “I just wanted to get pride into players and be hard to beat through the season,” he says. “We’ve lost too many games over the years that we should have drawn or won. So we just tried to get a bit of steel in our performances, a bit of pride.”

That new-found hardiness has been on display throughout the season. In their County Championship opener, Leicestershire were set 389 to win by Yorkshire, and an unbroken, 70-run eighth-wicket stand saw them over the line. The One-Day Cup semi-final was another show of resolve, Leicestershire slipping to 33-4 chasing 126 before rallying. “It’s been 22 years since we’ve been in a List A final,” says Hill. “To be captain of doing that, as a Leicester lad, I’m really proud.”

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Back at Hove, it’s that determination that takes Leicestershire within a few hits of pulling off one of the great Championship comebacks. Several times they resurrect themselves. They are 16-2 early on, and 108-3 when Colin Ackermann and Umar Amin join forces to put on 180. When both fall, new recruit Ben Cox and Tom Scriven put on a century stand for the seventh wicket. With four wickets in hand and the runs required under 50, Leicestershire might even be slight favourites. Then comes a final, fatal collapse, India Test quick Jaydev Unadkat taking three wickets in two overs. Leicestershire fall 15 runs short. Heartbreaking.

Leicestershire don’t have long to rouse themselves. A white-ball training session at Trent Bridge is lined up on the Friday before the final against Hampshire. Promotion is now a long shot, but not an impossibility – Sussex are back in the hunt, and both Leicestershire and Worcestershire have to play already promoted Durham. Two wins might not be enough. But still, it might be.

“With the promotion, people have said to me, ‘Do you really want to go up?’” Hill says. “And I’m like, ‘Yes. One hundred per cent.’ As a cricketer, you want to challenge yourself against the best teams in the country. And to get promoted to Division One… it would be a huge honour to do that.”

This is the other thing you have to get used to in Leicestershire: Questions that imply that you shouldn’t aspire too highly, or suggestions that you shouldn’t exist at all. English cricket is rarely not in a state of flux, but in 2023 that feels truer than ever. Running as an undercurrent through Leicestershire’s season has been a desire to show they need to be a part of the conversation going forward. “During the winter I read something, I can’t remember where, saying that smaller counties have no place in county cricket,” says Hill. “That hurt, as a person that has done all his career at Leicester, because I feel like we and all the other smaller counties have equal right to be part of the county system as some of the bigger ones. We’ve produced an equal number of England players over the years. [Winning a trophy] would be proof that we deserve to be a part of that system.”


The pace of change on the field has been equalled by that off it. Sean Jarvis, the club’s chief executive, isn’t just a man with a plan; he’s got several. Leicestershire is a club with six pillars (cricket, commercial, company, community, communication and cash) in the third of a five-year strategy (year one: mitigation, two: emerging, three: building, four: growth, five: success). By the fifth year, he hopes to have “the first shovel in the ground” for “phase one of the masterplan”, a full ground redevelopment, the vision of which was revealed in a CGI video ahead of this season, including facilities to offer the world’s first MBA in cricket administration.

It’s certainly ambitious. But given the state Leicestershire were in when Jarvis first came on board, it’s an achievement to be doing anything more than looking beyond the present. In late 2019, the club secured a £1.75 million loan from the city council, without which, Jarvis says, Leicestershire CCC might no longer exist. “That was about how we kept the club alive,” he says.

At that point, he was a non-executive board director. In early 2020, at the request of then-chair Mehmooda Duke, he took up the role of chief executive. Then COVID arrived. It has not been an easy ride. “I wish I knew then what I know now,” he says. “It might have been a different decision…”

But Jarvis is Leicester born and bred, and his links to the club run deep. “My dad was a big cricket man, a local cricket man,” he says. “He used to umpire a lot of second XI cricket, local cricket. God rest his soul, he’s been passed away 20-odd years now, but he lived and breathed Leicestershire cricket. And when he passed away, we scattered his ashes at square leg, at Grace Road. How could I turn my back on a club that was in distress? I’m now trying to create an infrastructure that means one day I can walk out the back door and then let the management team continue to run the club. I kind of want to sit in the stands and watch cricket, but I’ve got a bit more work to do first.”


In the wider context of Leicestershire’s struggles, this season stands out, and as you narrow in, it only becomes more remarkable. At the end of June, Jarvis insisted the club was “not in crisis”, which is not the kind of thing you want to have to insist. First, the news that three senior players – Parkinson, Ackermann, and Chris Wright – would depart at the end of the season, all three announced on the same day. Then came the development that head coach Paul Nixon had been placed on gardening leave, with the club “investigating comments [and] allegations” against him, the nature of which are still unclear, with Jarvis bound legally from discussing the circumstances. Leicestershire are now under the charge of joint head coaches Alfonso Thomas and a former favourite son, James Taylor.

It looked for a time as if Leicestershire’s off-field issues might derail their on-field campaign, with confirmation of Nixon’s exit following the conclusion of a disastrous T20 Blast campaign. Last year, had it not been for a points deduction, they would have qualified for the knockouts, and T20 cricket has been Leicestershire’s most competitive format in the 21st century, with three triumphs, in 2004, 2006 and 2011, a tally matched only by Hampshire. This time, they lost 12 out of 14 games, the worst record of any side in either group.

“I remember this conversation we had,” says Hill. “Sat in the changing room at the end of the Blast, we’d lost the last game, I can’t remember who to, and I said, ‘Look, guys. Yes, we’ve been poor here, but let’s put that to the back of our mind. We’re doing seriously well in the County Championship. We’ve got a one-day competition coming up. And look at the players in the room, we’re going to have an outstanding chance in that competition, and a chance to win silverware.’ And people picked their chin up.”

Leicestershire are used to losing players, and while Jarvis believes it’s past time that county cricket implemented a proper transfer system, he is more focussed on building a club that entices players to stay.

“It is a fact of life in sport that other clubs will try and pinch your best players,” he says. “The players that are departing have been great servants of the club for a long time and we’re sorry to see them go, but if one thing is certain in sport, it’s that players come, players go, chief execs come, chief execs go, and it’s how you deal with that.

“We’ve got to accept that it’s likely that our players will want to go to other clubs, but what we are beginning to see is, ‘I see what you’re building here, I see how we are changing the fortunes of the club. And you know what? I want to stay. I want to be part of this journey, part of this narrative.”

That Rehan Ahmed, a product of Leicestershire’s academy, has signed a contract extension until the end of the 2027 season, is testament to that.

Leicestershire play a key role in developing players, and along with Ahmed, there is much excitement about 19-year-old Josh Hull, a 6ft 7in left-arm quick who was second leading wicket-taker in their One-Day Cup campaign. “He’s got the world at his feet, that guy,” says Hill. “He’s really naive. I don’t think he knows how good he is or he can be in the future. I don’t think he realises it at the minute. He’s gonna be a huge player, not to put too much pressure on him but I’d love to see him in an England shirt in a couple of years time.”

But just as valuable as first chances are second chances, and last chances. Opening batter Rishi Patel is Leicestershire’s leading County Championship run-scorer this season, with centuries in all three formats for the club in 2023. Only two batters in either division – Durham’s Alex Lees and Somerset’s James Rew – have more than his four Championship hundreds. Before this season, he had only a solitary List A century to his name, joining the club in late 2020 after being surplus to requirements at Essex. Now he is a contender for an England Lions squad.

Hill himself is another example. He joined the Academy at 16 but wasn’t offered a contract, and worked in a newsagents while his parents lent him petrol money to travel to club and county second XI games. At 24, he finally got his chance. Now he’s the club captain, on the verge of something significant.

“Lifting a trophy would be my proudest achievement as a cricketer, 100 per cent,” he says. “They’ve got pictures of the T20 Blast winning seasons up in the indoor school, and I’ve said a few times this season that we’re going to do something special and get a picture up on the wall.”