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A solid day of batting helped Leicestershire secure eight points in an LV=CC draw that saw Lancashire clinch an instant return to Division One.
Lancashire declared on 453-7 yesterday and the teams shook hands at 4.30pm this afternoon when the Leicestershire first innings came to an end on 329.
There were contributions throughout, including career-best scores for Ben Raine (72, 162b), Tom Wells (43, 45b) and James Sykes (34, 54b). Their efforts built on fine work from Niall O’Brien (63, 98b), Matthew Boyce (38, 114b) and Michael Thornely (36, 76b).
O’Brien, who compiled his sixth Championship half-century of the summer, helped take the sting out of the game during partnerships worth 73 and 36 for the fourth and fifth wicket with Thornely and Boyce respectively.
Birthday boy Raine then featured in further stands of 61 and 69 with Boyce and Sykes as he moved to a maiden first-class 50. The Sunderland-born all-rounder has had an impressive start to his Leicestershire career, and long may that continue.
As play got underway on time, there was no sign that the sides had come to any sort of agreement on setting up a Leicestershire run chase. That was perfectly understandable, for every point Lancashire gained was going towards their promotion target.
Both sides’ gameplan was therefore straightforward. Lancashire simply had to pick up a flurry of wickets and enforce the follow-on as soon as possible. The key to Leicestershire’s day was to limit damage in the opening session. Thornely, O’Brien, Boyce and Raine all got stuck in to ensure the Red Rose county were only able to pick up two wickets before lunch.
After O’Brien scored a couple of runs in Kyle Hogg’s opener, Thornely picked up ten in Oliver Newby’s first over. That haul included an all-run four off his first ball as the 50-stand was registered. Thornely also found the ropes at mid-wicket with a nicely timed stroke.
O’Brien pulled a short Newby (23-5-81-2) ball for four at the start of the 30th over and then drove the next delivery to the extra cover boundary as the bowler over-compensated. A couple of appeals for leg before came but O’Brien came through them, County now 87-3.
However, the first wicket of the morning then came as Thornely (36, 73b) was caught by Tom Smith at slip after attempting to hook Hogg (23-5-52-3). That brought captain Boyce to the wicket and he also knuckled down alongside O’Brien.
Boyce hit Hogg to the ropes and Lancashire introduced key man Simon Kerrigan (31-10-95-3) into the attack alongside Smith (14.1-3-58-2). Both batsmen hit to the fence in Smith’s first offering, and O’Brien moved to a vital 81-ball 50 by pulling for four at the start of Smith’s second over. It was the seventh boundary of the innings.
O’Brien sent two crunching drives to the fence off Smith in the 43rd over but Kerrigan had proved hard to score off and then made the pressure count. O’Brien looked to turn the ball around the corner but the ball ballooned up off bat and pad, Smith taking the catch at leg slip.
Raine shimmied down the pitch to launch Kerrigan over the top for four before Lancashire introduced Andrea Agathangelou (7-3-23-0) as they opted for tweak at both ends. Boyce hit a brace of fours in the 48th over from Kerrigan, while Raine hit a four in each of Agathangelou’s last two overs before lunch, County going in on 152-5.
It had been a good session from Leicestershire and they used the platform to go on to pick up three batting points. Boyce cut and pulled to the fence while Raine also struck two fours in the opening four overs of the afternoon session, including a beauty of a cover drive off Kerrigan. Boyce then gathered two boundaries in Kerrigan’s 16th over, the first of which registered the 50 partnership.
The duo had batted in tandem for 26.3 overs before Boyce fell on the sweep to the slow left armer, Luis Reece taking the catch at deep backward square. The skipper had batted for two hours and six minutes, which was a fine effort given he was struggling with an injury picked up during the game.
Raine and Wells helped bank two batting points in a lively stand that spanned just 16.3 overs. The duo each picked up a four before Wells scored two to take the score to 200. The young batsman then launched Kerrigan for the first maximum of the innings down to mid-on.
Raine struck Newby to the fence before a single nudged into the leg side took the left-hander to 50 from 127 deliveries (7x4) to celebrate his 22nd birthday in style. Wells hit four of the next ten balls he received for four, including a good hit over the top off Hogg, and a three then took the team past 250.
But Wells fell seven short of a richly deserved 50 as he fell in similar fashion to Thornely, the batsman held at second slip by Agathangelou off Hogg as he attempted to strike through the leg-side. Sykes opened his boundary account before tea, Leicestershire going for a well-deserved cuppa on a comfortable 260-7.
Raine hit 13 runs from the first over after tea from Agathangelou, a four off the second ball was followed by a six over mid-wicket later in the over. Sykes pulled Smith for four before also picking up a boundary off Kerrigan in the next over, County progressing to 285-7 after 94 overs.
Raine was held at deep mid-wicket by Reece off Kerrigan in the 96th over, but Sykes collected his fourth four before Ollie Freckingham struck Kerrigan for two boundaries. Another four from Sykes took County to a third batting point before Freckingham was trapped leg before by Smith.
Final pair Sykes and Nathan Buck (15*, 22b) added 25 in a plucky stand, Sykes hitting a sixth boundary before gathering a single to take him past his previous highest score of 32 made against Worcestershire.
Buck hit Kerrigan for four in the 102nd over before clouting a six in the spinner’s next over, before Sykes attempted to pull and was brilliantly held by Ashwell Prince off Smith. The former South Africa international ran from slip to third man to pocket the toughest of opportunities, and the teams shook hands upon the dismissal.
With Essex’s victory bid thwarted by both Kent’s batsmen and the weather, Lancashire had done enough to seal promotion. They can go on to clinch the title in the next two games, while Leicestershire have one match left against Hampshire at Grace Road on Tuesday (10.30am start). They can take plenty of heart from this spirited display.