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Matt Lineker made a sparkling hundred and Garry Park produced a good all-round performance as Unicorns ended Leicestershire Foxes’ YB40 qualification hopes at Grace Road.
Lineker (132, 106b, 17x4, 1x6) put on 114 for the first wicket with Tom Lancefield (38, 73b) and 81 for the second with Park (31, 32b) as Unicorns posted a challenging 259-5.
Josh Cobb was the pick of the Foxes attack as he returned excellent figures of 1-23 off his allocation, and the skipper went on to strike a fine half-century in sharing an opening stand of 89 with Niall O’Brien (44, 49b).
But wickets then fell at regular intervals as the Unicorns bowled impressively. Park finished with 4-39 from his allocation and spinners Josh Poysden (8-0-35-1) and Luke Beaven (7-0-42-2) also proved hard to get away as the Foxes were dismissed for 217.
That meant the Unicorns won for the first time in the competition in 2013, by a 42-run margin, and Leicestershire Foxes can no longer mathematically make the semi finals.
The Foxes made a couple of changes to the side that lost to Gloucestershire as Rob Taylor and Robbie Williams missed out through injury. Tom Wells came in for this first YB40 appearance of the summer and Alex Wyatt also came into the XI.
Unicorns were also forced into two switches as key duo Mike O’Shea and Aneurin Norman were playing for Herefordshire and Wales in the last round of Minor Counties Championship fixtures. Vishal Tripathi and Devon Endersby were brought into the team.
Cobb won the toss and elected to field first, and although Anthony Ireland and Wyatt were accurate with the new ball, Unicorns progressed steadily to 30-0 after the powerplay.
Lineker drove the first boundary in the fourth over while Lancefield pulled over mid-wicket and drove through cover to score two fours in the 8th over. Lineker then cleverly nudged down to third man in Shiv Thakor’s first over.
Lancefield repeated the feat in the all-rounder’s second over, with the 50 also being recorded. Another four came as Lineker pulled Thakor for four in the 13th over. Michael Thornely was introduced in place of Thakor and Lineker pulled his first two balls to the short boundary for six and four.
Lineker chipped Cobb just over the head of Matthew Boyce, the ball running away to the boundary to add insult to injury. The tall left-hander then lofted down the ground to move to a 44-ball half-century that included six fours and a maximum.
Cobb brought Sykes (5-0-32-0) on at the Pavilion End and switched himself to the Bennett End. A Lancefield reverse sweep for two off Sykes in the 20th over brought up the 100 but Cobb continued his good work by conceding just a single in the next over.
Lineker split two leg side fielders to perfection to record his seventh four in Sykes’ third over before Cobb picked up a welcome wicket. The skipper had bowled extremely well and gained deserved reward by bowling Lancefield.
Lineker struck two leg side fours in the 23rd over bowled by Sykes and again found the boundary twice in the slow left armer’s next offering. Cobb finished off his fine spell and there was a double change, with Wyatt replacing Sykes before Thakor (8-1-68-2) came on in place of the captain.
Park played a delicate lap stroke to record both his first four and the 150, and Lineker pulled through mid-wicket to gather a further boundary. Park smashed a six in the 30th over, and with 13 scored in total, the score moved to 168-1.
The stand was now worth in excess of 50 and Ireland was reintroduced at the Bennett End. Former Derbyshire batsman Lineker drove over mid-off to progress to 95 and the ton was registered off the last ball of the over with a flick past short fine leg. The landmark came from just 84 balls and included 14 fours and a six.
Twelve came from the over, and Wyatt (8-0-45-0) bowled his final over. The Unicorns took their batting powerplay after 33 overs and Park edged Ireland for four in the first over of the fielding restrictions. But the bowler gained revenge by bowling Park with his next delivery as the Unicorns moved to 195-2.
The 200 came up after 33.4 overs and Vishal Tripathi (10, 7b) struck through mid-on to open his boundary account. Lineker was not content with 100 - he helped to take 20 off the next over. The opener dispatched an Ireland full toss for six over mid-wicket before twice finding the square leg boundary; an edge also flew beyond the grasp of short third man between those fours.
Tripathi used his feet to drive Thakor for four but the bowler reacted well by striking the off stump with a yorker. That brought Leicestershire Academy graduate Lewis Hill to the wicket.
Thornely (3-0-25-1) returned with a fine over, conceding just five and also picking up the key wicket of Lineker in the process. The left-hander was held at long-on by Thakor, who then trapped captain Keith Parsons in front in the 38th over.
That dismissal was part of a wicket maiden, and Ireland (8-0-51-1) went for four in his last over, so Leicestershire had clawed things back well with only 16 coming from four overs.
But Unicorns ended in style as 19 came off the last over. Endersby (15*, 10b) lapped and twice drove to the fence as the 250 came up, and Hill (15*, 8b) finished with a flourish by striking a six over straight mid-wicket.
That meant the Foxes were chasing 6.5 an over and Cobb got off to a flier by flicking the first ball away for four. O’Brien pulled a four and three at the start of the third over while Cobb drove Dominic Reed (6-1-36-0) for four in the next over.
Cobb hit the seamer slightly straighter for his third four in the 6th, and O’Brien drove through extra for four in that over too. Cobb struck three fours from the first three balls of Chris Skidmore’s fourth over, so the scoreboard was now moving nicely.
O’Brien pulled to the fence to register the 50 and Cobb lofted over extra to pick up his 7th four. The Foxes were nicely placed on 57-0 after the powerplay and Unicorns immediately opted to take the pace off the ball in the form of Poysden’s leg-spin.
Only three came from Poysden’s first over and although O’Brien cracked down the ground in the 10th, there was a reprieve for Cobb in the spinner’s second over. The batsman flat batted to Skidmore at long-on but the fielder failed to take the opportunity.
Cobb then pulled Endersby (2-0-16-0) high into the air but Tripathi misjudged it and the ball dropped over his head for four. Cobb played a similar stroke to register a 50-delivery half-century, this time the ball sailed high for six.
O’Brien was nearly dismissed as he offered a sharp return catch to Poysden but the bowler couldn’t quite hang on. The leggie then picked up a wicket as Cobb was pinned lbw on the sweep, the Foxes now 89-1 after 15 overs.
It was spin from both ends from the 18th over onwards as Beaven bowled alongside the impressive Poysden. Greg Smith (14, 19b) struck Beaven down the ground for four for a welcome boundary but the slow left armer struck in his next over, taking a smart return catch to dismiss O’Brien.
The Foxes were in decent shape on 112-2 at the halfway stage but things started to go downhill from that point. A third wicket fell in the 22nd over as Smith drove to Park at long-off off Beaven.
Boyce and Eckersley went about forming a partnership, both employing the reverse sweep to good effect in the 24th over as they picked up three and four respectively. Beaven nearly picked up a third wicket as Eckersley advanced, Hill unable to take the ball after it turned.
Boyce then swept conventionally to the boundary boards before again pulling out the reverse sweep in the 26th over. This time it went for four, and ten had been gathered in total. But County suffered another blow in the next over as Boyce (18, 20b) chipped back to Park. The Foxes moved to 162-4 with ten overs to go, and therefore required needed 98 off the last ten overs.
Eckersley then fell to a sensational one-handed catch by Park, again off his own bowling, as the Foxes lost their fifth wicket. Thakor (12, 16b) was the next wicket to fall, the batsman run out by a smart piece of work by Skidmore in his follow through.
The powerplay was taken with the Foxes on 177-6 after 33 overs and Wells struck a boundary in the first over. The target was now 76 off six but only five were scored off the next over.
Wells struck two boundaries as 13 came from the 36th over but a seventh wicket fell as Skidmore bowled Thornely (11, 18b). The innings was then wrapped up, with Wells left unbeaten on 25 (20b).
Ireland (6, 4b) found the fence but was caught at deep mid-wicket by Endersby off Park, Sykes (0, 2b) was caught at long-on by Reed off the all-rounder before Wyatt (0, 1b) was bowled by Skidmore (8-0-47-2).
Leicestershire’s next game comes in the LV=County Championship on Wednesday, the team travelling to face Glamorgan at the St Helen’s ground in Swansea.