Leicestershire all-rounder Ben Raine is desperate for the county’s first-class season to get underway this Sunday.
The Foxes start their championship campaign against Glamorgan in Cardiff, and after a breakthrough year last year, during which he picked up 59 first class wickets and scored 502 runs, Raine is determined to build on his growing reputation.
But the 24-year-old north-easterner admits it will also be a relief not to be worrying about the trials and tribulations of his beloved Sunderland Football Club.
“We’ve worked really hard over the winter on skills and fitness, and it will be great to get back and test ourselves in competitive cricket, when every ball counts,” said Raine.
“But it will also be good to forget about the football, not least after last Sunday. I was convinced we’d get at least a point against Leicester City at home, but we were so disappointing. To make matters worse I watched the game with Ollie Freckingham, who is a local lad and mad-keen City supporter.”
While Raine may be finding it hard to be optimistic about Sunderland’s diminishing chances of avoiding relegation, however, he has no such problems when it comes to assessing Leicestershire’s prospects this season.
“Honestly, I’m really excited. One of the positives last year was that three of us, Clint McKay, Charlie Shreck and me, all got over 50 wickets, so as a team we kept the opposition batters under pressure. We didn’t give them a way out.
“Unfortunately we didn’t always get the runs on the board to turn good positions into wins, and that’s where we’ve strengthened.
“The three new lads, Paul Horton, Neil Dexter and Mark Pettini, are experienced, quality batters, and when you look at the form the likes of Mark Cosgrove found towards the end of the season, and the talent of lads like Angus Robson and Aadil Ali, you can only feel seriously positive.”
Interestingly Raine, voted last season’s “Player of the Year”, still regards himself as very much a batsman, and considers his return last season “disappointing”.
“I began life as a batsman, I see myself as a thousand runs a year man, and I’ll be trying for it this season.”
Were he to achieve it, and maintain his bowling success, it is hard to imagine him not coming into the reckoning for an England Lions call-up.
“If you don’t want to play for your country you shouldn’t be playing the game. I’ve discussed it with Charlie Shreck, who as well as playing is now our bowling coach, and we’re working on my gaining pace, without losing movement and accuracy.
“If I maintain my current level of improvement hopefully I’ll start knocking on the door, but I do think I have to do a lot more with the bat to have a real chance. That’s my plan, though, and if I can achieve it, it will be good for Leicestershire as well as myself.”
Pending the conclusion of this week’s warm-up game against Loughborough MCCU yesterday [WEDS], only batsman Ned Eckersley (broken finger) is unavailable to Director of Elite Performance Andrew McDonald.
Possible squad: Cosgrove (captain), Robson, Horton, Dexter, Pettini, Ali, O’Brien, White, Raine, McKay, Chappell, Shreck, Sykes.