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Tom Wells hit a sparkling half-century but Birmingham Bears produced an excellent all-round performance to beat Leicestershire Foxes by 25 runs in the NatWest T20 Blast.
Will Porterfield made a lively 67 from 46 balls while Ateeq Javid produced a cameo of 27 off just 12 deliveries to ensure the Bears ended with a handy total of 175-9.
Nathan Buck picked up 3-37 and spinners Jigar Naik (4-0-22-0) and Josh Cobb (4-0-30-2) bowled tidily but the Foxes were not at their best in the field for the second game in succession.
The Bears’ experienced attack and razor-sharp fielding then squeezed the life out of the chase, which ended on 150-6.
Ramnaresh Sarwan made 37 at a run a ball and Wells (51, 30b) produced a gem of an innings but the Foxes fell behind the rate from an early stage.
Leicestershire Foxes had a blow in the build-up as Scott Styris was ruled out with a calf injury while Alex Wyatt also missed out as Sarwan and Naik came into the side.
Bears bowler Chris Woakes was released from England ODI duty and replaced Rikki Clarke from the side that lost to Lancashire on Friday evening. The Foxes won the toss for the first time in 2014 and decided to field first on a sunny afternoon at Grace Road.
Naik and Anthony Ireland (4-0-38-1) conceded just four apiece in their opening overs before the Bears gathered 13 from the third over as Porterfield hit two consecutive boundaries down to long leg.
One of those fours was fortunate as it came courtesy of a misfield and another streaky four followed in the next over as Varun Chopra (24, 19b) edged down to third man.
Chopra then hit an authentic cover drive to add four more to this tally as the Bears moved to 30-0 after four overs. Eleven came off the fifth over, including an attempted pull from Porterfield that ended up going for six down to third man.
Chopra then drove two successive fours as Rob Taylor (4-0-45-1) entered the attack but the left armer gained revenge by bowling the opener, who had shuffled across his stumps as he looked to hit to the leg side.
The Bears had 49-1 when the fielding restrictions were lifted and Jonathon Webb (5, 7b) drove Naik down to wide mid-on for four at the end of the 7th over. The batsman then looked for a repeat in Cobb’s opener but opted for the aerial route on this occasion and was pocketed by Taylor at long-on.
Tim Ambrose (6, 7b) was run out came in the 10th over after sharp work by Ned Eckersley at cover and quick hands from Cobb when the ball got to the bowler’s end. The Bears were 72-3 at the halfway stage and Naik went on to complete his fine spell.
The spinners had kept a lid on the scoring rate until the 12th over but twelve were scored in Cobb’s third over as Laurie Evans (23, 18b) belted over mid-wicket before producing a deft late cut to pick up fours. Porterfield built on that by striking the first ball of the 13th over to the extra cover boundary.
The Bears recorded their 100 at the end of that over, and eleven came off the 14th as Evans and Porterfield both found the fence. The Irishman moved to a nicely constructed 39-ball 50 (4x4, 1x6) courtesy of that stroke, and Porterfield hit a huge straight six as another eleven were collected from the 15th over.
Porterfield produced a terrific reverse sweep to pick up a fifth four but Cobb landed revenge as the batsman attempted a similar stroke a couple of balls later. This time the ball headed in the direction of Eckersley at cover and the fielder took a good diving catch.
Birmingham were 131-4 with four overs to go and Buck thought he had struck at the start of the 17th over as Evans slapped a full toss to Cobb at cover - but the ball was just above waist height.
The bowler did not have to wait long to claim his first wicket though, as Evans pulled to Taylor at long-on next ball. Patel (0, 1b) was then bowled by the seamer as he walked across his stumps two balls later before Chris Woakes (9, 9b) ended an eventful over by pulling the last ball for four.
The Bears had an injection of impetus towards the end of the innings thanks in large to Javid. The batsman cut a no-ball to the fence at the start of the 18th over before playing a crafty sweep at the end of it.
Javid then cut Buck away for four as his fine knock continued but the seamer picked up a third wicket as Woakes clattered high into the air and Cobb took a superbly judged catch with the ball dropping over his shoulder.
Keith Barker (4, 2b) struck through mid-off for four at the start of the last over before Ireland took a brilliant skier off his own bowlin. Javid ensured the Bears ended well as he cut and pulled consecutive balls to the fence before being run out looking to retain the strike.
There was a hectic start to the chase as Cobb was caught by Boyd Rankin off the second ball but Barker had overstepped. There was also a wide and a cut boundary by Cobb as the Foxes recorded eleven. Unfortunately that was the only occasion where the Foxes were ahead of the required rate at the end of an over.
Niall O’Brien (4, 6b) drove Woakes’ first ball for four but four dots followed. The bowler took full advantage of the pressure he had built by having the left-hander caught by Barker at mid-on. Chris Wright (4-0-25-2) followed up by having the in-form Cobb (9, 11b) caught off an attempted pull that went to Chopra at cover.
Smith (8, 10b) smashed Wright back over his head at the end of the fifth over but he was bowled by Rankin in the next as the Foxes stuttered to 30-3 off their powerplay. The team now required more than ten an over and it was always going to be a big ask.
Eckersley pulled Barker (4-0-33-0) to the ropes in the 7th over and an inside edge from another attempted pull also flew for four in the 8th over. Javid’s (1-0-4-0) first over went for just four off the bat and a leg bye, and although Sarwan went on to drive through mid-on to pick up his first four, the Foxes were struggling on 60-3 at halfway.
Sarwan found the third man boundary at the start of the 11th over but the Bears still had off-spinner Patel up their sleeve and he made an immediate impact. Eckersley (18, 17b) came down the track but he was deceived by a quicker ball and Ambrose whipped off the bails.
Wells then played a brilliant knock. The promising all-rounder hit Wright for a huge six over square leg before depositing Patel for a maximum towards the marquee. The Foxes were 94-4 with five overs to go, requiring an unlikely 82 to win. Sarwan pulled Patel (3-0-19-2) for four but the Kiwi international responded with another faster delivery that bowled his overseas counterpart.
Wells smoked Woakes (4-0-32-1) over mid-on for four and six as 16 came from the 17th over. The all-rounder then pulled Rankin for a huge six before giving himself room to smash two fours through the off-side as the Foxes had another fine over worth 17.
But the target was now 42 off the last twelve balls and only eight came from the penultimate over from the pacy Rankin (4-0-35-1). Wells moved to a 28-ball 50 at the start of the final over and Michael Thornely (13*, 10b) then hit a four over the fielder at extra cover. The entertaining sixth-wicket stand progressed to 52 but Wells was bowled off the last ball by Wright as the Bears took the two points.
Leicestershire Foxes’ next challenge in the NatWest T20 Blast is a home game against Worcestershire Rapids on Friday evening (5.30pm start).
* Thanks to Ed Melia for the action shot of Tom Wells.