Despite finishing bottom of LV= County Championship Division Two for the third year in succession, Leicestershire finally shrugged a monkey off their back in 2015.
The Foxes, under the new stewardship of Wasim Khan MBE, Andrew McDonald and Mark Cosgrove, saw their winless streak in the Championship extend to 37 matches, a sequence dating back to September 2012, after losing three and drawing two of their opening five fixtures.
But just when another fruitless campaign may have been in the offing, Leicestershire ended a 992-day wait to regain the winning feeling at the Essex County Ground on June 3 courtesy of a brilliant performance.
They bounced back from crushing defeats at the hands of heavyweights Surrey and Lancashire, who went on to earn promotion, to secure a historic six-wicket win.
Ben Raine justified Cosgrove’s decision to field by returning figures of 5-48 in 18 overs to help dismiss the hosts for just 166.
Angus Robson’s 120 gave Leicestershire a first-innings lead of 114 and after Charlie Shreck took five wickets in Essex’s second-innings 276, the visitors required 163 to get off the mark.
Robson broke the back of a tricky chase with 71 before debutant Andrea Agathangelou and Lewis Hill overcame a slight wobble with a stand of 46 to edge their side over the line and spark emotional celebrations at Chelmsford.
“We partied like we had won the Championship,” Raine told ecb.co.uk. “It is up there, one of the highlights of my career.
“It was a clinical performance. Essex are a good team with seriously good players and we outplayed them. We deserved the win, it wasn’t a case of a lucky win, and we got it.
“It was an unbelievable day, an unbelievable four days really, and it boosted our confidence.
“It mirrored the kind of cricket we were playing throughout the year, but we just hadn’t got over the line previous to that.”
Leicestershire may have thought their elusive win would have been the springboard for further success, but they managed just one more Championship triumph.
Raine believes their lack of success in the past proved their downfall as they failed to recognise key moments in games, something they will improve on in the future.
“I was hoping that we would go on from there and win many more games, unfortunately we didn’t,” he said.
“It was a year of nearly theres. At the start of the year we put ourselves in massive, really good positions where we were driving games and were massively ahead.
— The Sporting Capital (@TSCLeicester) June 3, 2015
“But we didn’t just lose the key periods, the key periods came in a game and we were blown away by them. That was purely from the fact it was a losing environment and we didn’t recognise those moments.
“When you start to win you recognise these are the moments that if you win these, you win the game. We weren’t aware as a group that that was happening. We were a little bit slower to react than the other team and by the time you know it they were ahead.
“We dropped a lot of catches at the start of the season that hurt us. We were not far off. We finished the season with two wins but I wanted more. We were capable of more.”
Although Leicestershire only won six of their 38 competitive fixtures in 2015, suffering group-stage exits in the NatWest T20 Blast and Royal London One-Day Cup, Raine believes progress has been made under new head coach McDonald and skipper Cosgrove’s leadership.
“The culture at the club is something that has really changed. It is a much calmer environment, based on what you are willing to bring to the table,” he said.
“You can prepare for a game however you want but you have to produce. If you didn’t produce, it was a constant learning environment, there was no panic. McDonald was in your corner wanting you to do well.
“It is an incredible environment to develop as a player. I think you saw that with players this year, people like Aadil Ali thriving with that kind of structure around you. You can only improve as a player.”
One of the major positives from the 2015 campaign was the performances of Sunderland-born Raine, a swing bowler and capable left-handed lower-order batsman who was released by home county Durham in 2013.
The 24-year-old, with 59 scalps, topped the club’s wicket charts in the Championship, excelling in a three-pronged pace attack including Charlie Shreck and Clint McKay, and was rewarded with a hat-trick of awards at the Foxes’ end-of-season dinner.
“At the start of the year I couldn’t really of imagined getting anywhere near where I was, but my job was made a lot easier by the calibre of the bowlers at the other end, Shreck and McKay,” Raine added.
“Those two were really outstanding and did make my job a lot easier, not just taking the pressure off but the help, support and knowledge they gave me. They were often stood at mid-off while I bowled so to have them there in my corner made my job a lot easier.
“I found, and I hope they did too, that there was a genuine happiness that even if it wasn’t me getting wickets, if it was Charlie or Clint getting a five-for, they were happy. I enjoyed it.”
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