Opener Sam Evans top-scored with 63, South African all-rounder Wiaan Mulder made 39 on his Leicestershire debut and Ed Barnes an unbeaten 34 but it was another disappointing first innings by the home side, who have picked up only four batting points from the first three matches of the season.
Sri Lanka Test fast bowler Suranga Lakmal, wicketless against Sussex last week, finished with two for 52 and saw two slip catches spilled, and 19-year-old seamer Nick Potts looked a decent prospect with two for 32 in only his second senior appearance, but 23-year-old Conners was Derbyshire’s brightest spark with the ball, raising his wickets tally for the season to 14.
Derbyshire closed on 36 for one in reply, having lost skipper Billy Godleman. Pakistan star Shan Masood, already past 400 runs for the season in just his fourth innings for the county, is unbeaten on 20.
Skipper Colin Ackermann chose to bat first on a green-tinged pitch but Leicestershire struggled. They lost four wickets for 68 runs before lunch and another three in the afternoon to be 158 for seven at tea.
Hassan Azad, who began the season with a century against Worcestershire, cut and drove Conners for the day’s first boundaries but Conners then produced an inswinger to have him leg before.
Anuj Dal nipped one past the outside edge to bowl George Rhodes for six, then took a good catch at backward point as Ackermann played loosely at Potts and there was a bonus wicket for Derbyshire in the over before lunch when leg-spinner Mattie McKiernan, playing his first match this season, bowled Louis Kimber.
The Kimber dismissal ushered in Mulder, who tested positive for Covid-19 while on Test duty earlier this month. Mulder survived a low chance to Alex Thomson at slip off Lakmal on one but grew in assuredness and picked up half a dozen boundaries as he and Evans built a partnership.
After his match-saving half-century at Chester-le-Street, Evans completed another but then gave his wicket away with a poor shot, hanging his bat out to a ball from Conners to give an easy slip catch. The fifth wicket had added 69 but its value was diminished when Harry Swindells was lbw without scoring in the same over.
Thomson put down Barnes at slip in almost a carbon copy of the Mulder escape but Lakmal was rewarded when he beat the South African’s attempt to work the ball to leg, trapping him in front.
The Sri Lankan’s second wicket followed four overs after tea. Callum Parkinson, the left-arm spinner, unsettled by being hit on his bowling hand, then steered a ball rather tamely to second slip. Beuran Hendricks was ninth out when he dragged a Conners full toss on to his stumps.
Barnes and Will Davis held Derbyshire up with a 39-run stand for the last wicket that at least secured one batting bonus point but ended when Davis edged behind to give Potts his second wicket.
Derbyshire faced 16 overs at the close as they began their reply, losing Godleman, who was tested by Hendricks before being caught behind off a ball he tried to leave.