Northants 199 for 8 (Proctor 82, Raine 4-54) lead Leicestershire 128 (Raine 57, Sanderson 5-39, Gleeson 5-49) by 71 runs
Ben Raine is a combative soul, a sort of Ben Stokes type without the England caps, the headlines and the penchant for street theatre. Almost single-handedly, he has challenged the notion that Northants are about to pip Nottinghamshire for promotion and that Leicestershire are condemned to a winless season.
Raine played age-group cricket with Stokes at Durham. Even on such days like this, he will probably insist that he would love to be compared to him. He struck 59 to prevent a rout and then took four wickets to invite hopes of a transformation beyond belief. Hopefully he followed up with an early night and a cocoa.
Until Raine’s intervention, it had taken less than 17 overs for two facts to be gleaned from an extraordinary first session at Grace Road: firstly, Leicestershire, barring miracles, were likely to endure a winless season, and Northants’ promotion challenge was still very much alive.
Or, as their former England batsman Ben Duckett neatly put it on Twitter, as he missed the match through injury: “COME ON THE CHUBSTERS!”
After little more than an hour of coming and going, Leicestershire were 26 for 7. You don’t want a home match in late September, with the toss regulations as they are, when you are adrift at the bottom of the table.
Leicestershire avoided a historic low as Raine rallied but even he could not entirely offset a day that ended with Northants leading by 71 with two wickets remaining. But he certainly irritated a side that had anticipated far greater riches.
Now for the arithmetic, sort of. Northants, third, have Nottinghamshire, in second, in their sights. A Notts win would end Northants’ challenge, but Notts are in disarray at Hove. If Notts escape with a draw, that will probably suffice for them. If Notts lose and Northants beat Leicestershire, the Chubsters are First Division-bound.
This, it should be stressed, is the same Northants side which Peter Moores, the Notts coach who has led the county to both limited-overs trophies, and who had reason to anticipate a treble only a few weeks ago, would issue with lifestyle sheets and impose punishment runs if they were ever caught watching The Great British Bake Off. This is also the Northants side which, according to the analysis favoured within the Test match counties, supposedly just concentrates on T20 and doesn’t care two hoots for the Championship. There’s that theory gone then.
Leicestershire’s flimsy resistance will doubtless attract criticism. Their very name invites greed among some business types who just want to close them down and divide out the proceeds. Their recent record is not much of a case for the defence. But the ground itself is much improved – quietly attractive on a decent autumn day – and there is a yearning for self-improvement. What’s not to like?
What was not to like was Leicestershire’s batting, even allowing for a humid morning during which the ball swung persistently, if not extravagantly. From the moment that Michael Carberry was struck in front by Ben Sanderson’s outswinger, they were up against it, Sanderson and Richard Gleeson going on to take five wickets apiece.
The debutant, Sam Evans, got the most savage delivery – one from Gleeson that jagged back ferociously to take the inside edge – Ned Eckersley and Aadil Ali missed inswingers from Sanderson to be lbw and Mark Cosgrove played on as he drove at a full-length ball from Gleeson. Add Lewis Hill’s curious walking shot and the best delivery of the lot, which left Neil Dexter to uproot his off stump as he played to leg, and 26 for 7 it was.
One of Duckett’s fellow chubsters, the veteran South African allrounder, Rory Kleinveldt, had given Northants a fighting chance of promotion when he took a career-best 9 for 65 against Nottinghamshire at Wantage Road last week. Kleinveldt must have sensed a further bounty on a bowling morning at Grace Road, but perhaps he was over-ambitious because he was stretching gingerly in the warm-ups and then broke down with a side strain after only 11 deliveries.
That left Northants’ resources under strain – Luke Procter, on loan from Lancashire, was third seamer and was to bowl four overs for 27 as Raine joined Zak Chappell in a facesaving stand of 68 for the eighth wicket. No repeat then of Leicestershire’s 25 against Kent in 1912, their lowest Championship score, or more recent embarrassments – 34 against Essex on a dodgy park pitch at Southend or 43 against Worcestershire last season.
Things might have been worse for Leicestershire. Raine was dropped on 15 at second slip by Richard Levi, off Gleeson, and Chappell should have been comfortably run out on 5, only for wicketkeeper David Murphy to fumble a gentle throw from the bowler’s end.
Northants looked solid shortly after tea, 90 runs to the good, Procter and Rob Newton well set. Raine removed them both, Procter for 82, had Simon Kerrigan lbw for nought, second ball, and ensured no act of courage from Kleinveldt, whose appearance at No 9 lasted four deliveries. Not for the first time, he looked full of competitive edge.
Poor lad. All his career, Raine has probably wants to be compared to Stokes and it had to happen on a day like this.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps