My Cricket Memories 10
Saturday 21st September 1996 has to be by far my proudest moment yet as a Leicestershire supporter.
Day three arrived of our final County Championship match against Middlesex at Grace Road, how fitting that we were at home and it was achieved on a Saturday.
I remember arriving at the ground at least an hour before the start of play and taking up a bench close to the dressing room entrance and all players and supporters alike seemed confident that Leicestershire could achieve the simple task of winning the game that would make us champions.
Having bowled Middlesex out for 190 in the first innings, Leicestershire were well positioned at 381-8, with a healthy lead of 191, with Phil Simmons 95 not out, play started at the routine 10.30 September time.
Although Adrian Pierson fell for three just nine runs later, with Simmons already passed 100, the normally typical old fashioned number 11 Alan Mullally not only helped Simmons to an unbeaten 142, he also mustered up 75 runs of his own which was quite amazing, though he always earned his money with the ball.
When he was finally bowled by Angus Fraser, Leicestershire had 512 runs on the board, a lead of 322 from the first innings. The amazing thing about this game was Leicestershire were actually confirmed as champions as a result of Surrey, chasing our tails, forfeiting their first innings in pursuit of victory in the match against Worcestershire at The Oval.
With Middlesex 50 odd for two at tea, rumour started to gather around the ground about this, remembering there was no internet and not many mobile phones around in those days. Minutes later the tannoy system crackled into life and the rumour was confirmed. Naturally a big cheer went up and the players appeared on the balcony followed by a big standing ovation as they returned to the field for the evening session.
The day finished with Middlesex on 194 for five having shown some resistance from Mark Ramprakash. Although the game wasn't won yet, and Leicestershire needed five wickets to complete the job. That did not matter however, as it was time for the celebrations, somehow the trophy had arrived at Grace Road although it was probably there safely stored away all along.
The trophy was presented to Captain James Whitaker on the Balcony and the celebrations began as the crowd cheered from in front of the pavilion. Truly amazing scenes and the celebrations went on well into the night.
It was a truly great achievement for a so-called team of average county pros - not that anyone at Leicestershre thought that - and legendary coach Jack Birkenshaw who served the club so well as a player and Head Coach. A few pints followed in the Fox Bar then onto the Cricketers pub where I still have vivid memories of dancing on a table - I was a young man then!
The boys duly wrapped up victory the following morning with the wickets needed to win by an innings and 74 runs, and more celebrations followed. It was the start of probably the most successful era of the club and another title success followed two years later in 1998 and every season until the early 2000s you felt we were challenging with the elite.
Let’s hope those days return soon but the 1996 county championship was truly remarkable!