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NatWest T20 Blast 2016
Fri 24 June, 18:30

Fischer County Ground, Grace Road, Leicester

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Leicestershire Foxes

Leicestershire Foxes

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Leicestershire Foxes

Bears

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Report: Leicestershire Foxes v Birmingham Bears

Report by Richard Rae

Birmingham Bears maintained their progress towards a home quarter-final with a comfortable victory against the Leicestershire Foxes.

Put in by Ian Bell after the Bears’ skipper won the toss, the Foxes struggled to come to terms with the pitch from the start of their innings. Captain mark Pettini was first to, skying an attempted forcing shot high over extra cover. Sam Hain turned and, running back towards the boundary, held a well-judged running catch.

Mark Cosgrove went in the next over, playing too soon at a well-pitched up delivery from Rikki Clarke and chipping a simple catch to midwicket, and the home team could ill-afford Kevin O’Brien running himself soon afterwards. Cameron Delport dug out a yorker from Mark Adair, and looked up to see O’Brien charging towards him. The startled South African sent the Irishman back, but having gone at least three-quarters of the way down the wicket, O’Brien had no chance of beating Adair’s throw when the young seamer picked up the ball, turned, and hit middle stump.

A 20 minute rain break gave Delport and Umar Akmal time to think about their approach, but soon after the re-start the left-handed Delport drove at Adair without any conviction and gave Clarke a straightforward low catch at extra cover.

With the score 25-4 the Foxes were in deep trouble, and it looked to have worsened when Akmal swept Jeetan Patel to deep midwicket where Sam Hain, running in from the boundary, looked to have held a low catch. Akmal waited for the decision though, and to the Bears dismay, umpires David Millns and Billy Taylor decided they could not be sure the catch had been held before the ball had touched the ground.

Lewis Hill slog swept Recordo Gordon high over midwicket for six, and with Akmal, had compiled a partnership of 53 for Leicestershire’s fifth wicket when he tried a scoop Adair down to fine third man – a shot he had played successful two balls earlier – and succeeded only in lifting the ball straight into the gloves of Luke Ronchi behind the stumps.

Akmal quickly followed, a leading edge off Jeetan Patel flying high towards backward point where Ateeq Javid held the catch to leave the Foxes on 80-6 in the fifteenth over. Tom Wells and Neil Dexter took the score on to 116, including 18 from a Gordon over, before Dexter holed out off the same bowler, and though Wells continued to hit hard, with the ball not coming on to the bat, could only take the Foxes up to a total of 125-7.

Captain Bell then lead the way for the Bears, compiling an opening partnership of 51 in under six overs with Sam Hain to give his side an outstanding start to their reply.

Hain lost nothing in comparison, hitting four beautifully timed boundaries before cutting O’Brien chest-high to Akmal at point. When Will Porterfield was bowled by Ben Raine soon afterwards, a delivery which seamed past the outside edge to hit off-stump, the Foxes might have thought they were back in the game, and they might have been so had Laurie Evans not survived a caught behind shout off Raine before he had scored.

With time in hand, however, Evans could afford to play himself in, and having done so, the hard-hitting right-hander accelerated impressively, catching his captain and then taking the Bears home by hitting O’Brien for consecutive boundaries and then a straight six, going to his half-century in the process.

LEICESTERSHIRE FOXES (A)

LEICESTERSHIRE FOXES (A) – 24 June 2016

Winners of the NatWest20Blast on three occasions – in 2004, 2006 and 2011 – The Foxes are always difficult opponents, especially at their own Fischer County Ground Road home.

Under the astute stewardship of Wasim Khan, former Bears batsman and now Foxes chief executive, they are showing signs of resurgence in all formats. But they came a cropper in the T20Blast at the Fischer County Ground last season against the Birmingham Bears – and Rikki Clarke in particular.

Friday night NatWest T20 Blast games under floodlights will be great,.

Mark Pettini, Foxes Captain

Clarke top-scored with an intelligently-composed 46 from 36 balls to engineer the Bears a solid total of 160 after the Foxes had got rid of big guns Brendon McCullum and Varun Chopra early on. With perspicacious support from Tim Ambrose (34 from 28 balls) and Ateeq Javid (28 from 16) the former England all-rounder ensured the Foxes a stiff target – and then made their task a whole lot harder with a brilliant opening spell with the ball.

Clarke delivered his four overs for just ten runs, bowling 16 dot-balls – a remarkably high ratio in the hurly-burly of T20. The Foxes were behind the clock from that point and never caught up, ultimately beaten by eight runs.

Reinforced by some shrewd winter signings, the Foxes will be gunning for revenge on June 24 and their new NatWestT20Blast captain Mark Pettini reckons the atmosphere will be one to savour. “Friday night NatWest T20 Blast games under floodlights will be great,” he said. “It should be a special summer from that point of view, a buzzing atmosphere can add 10% to a player’s performance levels.

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