By Richard Dore
WHENEVER any struggling team finds a breakthrough star, their leading rivals are never slow to take notice and begin circling around.
That must be the fear for many a Leicestershire fan this summer, with the increasingly excellent form of all-rounder Ben Raine attracting glances from the heavyweight opposition – his lightning-fast t20 century last week impossible to ignore.
But whilst Leicestershire have certainly been labelled as strugglers in recent seasons, with no County Championship wins in either 2014 or 2017, the Paul Nixon revolution is clearly into full swing in the East Midlands this summer.
Three wins achieved so far mean Leicestershire are in the top half of Division Two in the County Championship and the most unlikeliest of promotions is even being whispered of.
Either way, it is set to come soon enough for Raine, who has a clause in his contract enabling him to leave for a prospective top-flight suitor.
“That’s why I’ve got that in my contract, Division One cricket is what I want to do,” explained the 26-year-old Tynesider.
“That’s where in our country the best players play and I want to find out if I’m one of them.
“There are some seriously good cricketers playing in Division Two, I think we underrate that a little bit.
“But I do want to play against the best. The way we’re going, though, at the minute there’s no reason Leicester can’t do that.
“There is a bit of interest in terms of teams but I’ve always said that my ambition is to play Division One cricket with Leicestershire.
“I’m working very hard for that possibility. I’d give anything for that to be a possibility so at the minute that’s all I’m really focusing on.
“We’ll see what happens. If that doesn’t become reality then I’ve got a decision to make but at the end of the day I’d love to see Leicester in the top tier.”
Four-day cricket may be his aim but it’s worth revisiting that magnificent Raine century against Birmingham last week as Leicestershire reached their record t20 total – 229-5 – in the win at Edgbaston.
Raine reached 113 in 46 balls – the second-fastest t20 century ever by an Englishman and the Sunderland-born all-rounder’s first ton in any format.
Given his consistency and strong presence in the Foxes side, it is easy to forget that Raine missed the entire T20 campaign in 2017 through injury. So where did it come from?
“I’ve been working really hard in training and put some good sessions together so I felt good going into it,” he added.
“My batting is improving all the time but I still think there’s a lot to learn about the tactics of the game.
“Nicko (head coach Paul Nixon) is one hell of a bloke and his knowledge of the game from his career, working at the highest level, is exceptional.
“He’s given me a couple of extra little shots. I’m a ‘stand there and try and whack the ball’ type of a bloke and he was a bit different, he was clever, using the field, so I’ve discussed that a lot with him.”
Raine, who has been with Leicestershire since 2013, is clearly attracting interest from other clubs but his form also raises the question of whether he’ll receive an international call-up in the future.
Raine doesn’t believe he’s good enough yet but his strategy to get there is simple enough – more centuries.
“Looking at the lads getting picked, even for the Lions, I’m probably not the kind of bowler they’re looking for,” Raine accepted.
“That’s why I’m trying to shift to my batting more in the last couple of years, getting my head down and banging hundreds across all three formats.
“I wouldn’t pick myself as just a bowler, I’m perhaps not quick enough to play Test cricket but if I can get hundreds and do what I do with the ball then that’s how I’ll get in.”