It has been a tough week for Leicestershire CCC. The two-point penalty incurred for disciplinary breaches in their previous T20 Blast match against Northamptonshire rendered their winner takes all game against Yorkshire at a packed out Grace Road a meaningless encounter. The White Rose side would be guaranteed to go through regardless of the result.
At first glance the penalty does appear to be very harsh. It is undeniable that Leicestershire had a poor disciplinary record in the 2020 and 2021 seasons, which had incurred the suspended penalty that was hanging over their heads until this week. However, the club has worked tirelessly to improve their conduct on the field this season and the incidents against Northamptonshire were their first blemishes on an otherwise spotless disciplinary record in 2022.
In no other sport are penalties carried from season to season. Accumulated yellow cards in football are not carried over to the following campaign. The ECB’s actions effectively left the county facing a first strike and you’re out policy.
It is also quite interesting to look closer at the incidents in question. The first breach of the ECB disciplinary code occurred when Naveen-ul-Haq bowled two full tosses above waist height in the 19th over for which he was removed from the attack. Normally, the punishment would end there but under the ECB’s playing regulations for the T20 Blast, it also incurs a disciplinary penalty, thereby punishing the offender and their club twice for the same offence, a rule which has been criticised this week by Sussex fast bowler Tymal Mills.
The second offence involved Arron Lilley running from the boundary to celebrate in front of Northants batsman Jimmy Neesham after he had been run out as the game reached its climax. This is distasteful, of course, but it is hard to escape the feeling that the club are being punished harshly for things that more illustrious or powerful teams get away with.
In the same week that Leicestershire received their penalty, commentators across the land have been lauding Virat Kohli for his over- aggressive celebrations, screaming at England batsmen as they depart the crease and blowing kisses at a dismissed Jonny Bairstow, in the current Test match. The double standards here are so obvious as to barely need pointing out. Virat Kohli, however, is box office. Leicestershire CCC, it would seem, are not.
The treatment of the Foxes is indicative of the attitude from the ECB and the media towards the so-called smaller counties, the ones who do not boast a Test Match ground or regularly contribute players to the England team. It is hard to imagine the governing body issuing a similar penalty to Surrey, Warwickshire (or Birmingham Bears as they are known in the Blast) or any of the other “big” county sides. Leicestershire are expendable it would appear. An article appeared in The Daily Telegraph recently entitled “No runs, no wickets and little hope, do Leicestershire deserve to survive?”
In cricket we seem to value clubs based solely on their ability to benefit the national team, rather than seeing them as valuable entities at the heart of their communities in their own right. It appears that this peculiar attitude is unique to our sport. Perhaps, it exists in some level in rugby, although I doubt whether clubs competing in the European Champions Cup consider producing players for Eddie Jones’ England as their primary concern. It certainly does not happen in football, however. At the end of May, Wembley held the the League 2 play off final between Port Vale and Mansfield. 37,303 people attended. How many players have these two clubs produced for England I wonder, and yet no one in football is questioning their right to exist.
County cricket clubs on the other hand, have to justify their mere existence almost every season. Kevin Pietersen’s recent tweets claiming that many counties do not benefit the England team have gained a lot of publicity and although most do not shout as loudly as the former Test batsman, there are many in the game who appear to agree with his sentiments. Now, perhaps, is the time to ask why.
Each of our 18 counties has a varied and storied history as rich as that of any of the 92 football league club. Leicestershire themselves, who seem to be perennially teetering on the verge of extinction, won the Championship as recently as 1997 and are the only county to win the T20 Blast three times. They are now making fine, albeit delayed, efforts to engage with the large South Asian community in their catchment area. The Leicestershire CCC in the Community programme is doing impressive work training coaches and engaging young people with the game. Their efforts are well worth a follow on Twitter. In a few years, this could even bear fruit with the development of future England players. Indeed, the young leg spinner Rehan Ahmed has just been selected for the England Lions forthcoming matches against South Africa, after graduating from the Leicestershire academy.
In the week that Stuart Broad took his 500th Test wicket it is also worth remembering that he learned his trade at Grace Road. Each of the clubs that make up the County Championship is a precious institution in their own right and terminating their existence would be a sporting travesty on the scale of the heart-breaking demise of Bury football club two years ago. I doubt whether Bury FC have produced many England players of late but their demise was mourned by locals regardless. We must stand up for the survival of each and every one of our First-Class sides.
Leicestershire chairman Sean Jarvis has worked tirelessly this season to bring fans back to Grace Road and Sunday night’s game should have been the glorious culmination of that as the county bid to win through to the Blast quarter finals. It was reported that the ECB wished Leicestershire to delay the announcement of the points deduction till after the Yorkshire game so that fans would be unaware the match was meaningless. If this is true, then it truly shows the contempt with which those in charge of the game really hold fans of our beloved counties.
Of course, Leicestershire won the game comfortably against Yorkshire with a sparkling 72 not out from captain Colin Ackermann. It is in their nature to fight against the odds. To borrow a saying from their footballing counterparts, foxes never quit.