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County T20 Kings of the Castle

Second XI scorer Pete Johnson gives his take on Second XI T20 Finals Day, which was a great day for Leicestershire.

Leicestershire reached the Finals Day of the Second XI T20 Competition after finishing top of their group with 11 points.

Finals Day was held on Thursday 5 June 2014 at Arundel CC. The four teams who had qualified for Finals day were: Hampshire, Lancashire, Somerset, and Leicestershire. By coincidence the same four teams of the respected 1st XIs reached Finals Day in 2011 when Leicestershire won the competition at Edgbaston.

We made our way through the leafy lanes of deepest West Sussex arriving at the quintessentially English picturesque cricket ground of Arundel Cricket Club. Leicestershire were first on at 10.30am, and had been drawn against Lancashire in the first semi-final. Lancashire won the toss and asked County to bat. In keeping with the surroundings, the players were housed in Gazebos when waiting to bat as opposed to the ‘bus shelter’ type accommodation that is usually the norm for T20 Blast matches.

The ground had something of a throwback to a bygone era, with a genteel crowd surrounding the playing area in an assortment of garden chairs. Even the small colony of gulls that paid many visits to the ground throughout the day were black headed gulls, not your common or garden seagull. In keeping with the surroundings the loudspeakers for the PA system were discreetly hidden in the horse chestnut trees around the ground.

The match had drawn extra attention as one Andrew Flintoff was making an appearance for Lancashire 2s after a 5-year absence from the game, Flintoff’s presence having attracted Sky cameras.

My vantage point in the scorebox looked towards Arundel Castle with the flag proudly flying on the keep of the castle, the light breeze ensuring that the bottom of the flag was regimentally parallel to the ground below at all times. A bronze cockerel atop of the weather vane, on the dreaming spire of a nearby church was no doubt about to observe his umpteenth game at this idyllic venue. Additionally to the left, as a result of a break in the trees, was a glorious view, of the Sussex Downs, with the River Arun meandering its way lazily through acres of lush countryside.

Matt Boyce and Michael Thornely opening the innings for Leicestershire, and took the score to 49 until Thornely (24), 16 balls, was dismissed, bowled by Flintoff from the last ball of the 5th over (Flintoff’s 1st over). Boyce was joined by Dan Redfern, and the pair steadily took the score to 85 before Redfern (7 from 10 balls) was dismissed by Wayne White in the 10th over. Boyce had progressed to 42 from 32 balls at this stage.

Tom Wells joined the prolific Boyce making a brisk 20 from 13 balls before falling to Jordan Clark in the 14th over with the score on 116. Boyce, meanwhile, had moved to an eye-catching 50 from 40 balls (5x4). Lewis Hill (18) from 13 balls was next to go, stumped by Ashley Gowers off Arron Lilley. Usman Tariq (1) was the only other wicket to fall, another victim for the returning Flintoff. Whilst all this was going on, the belligerent Boyce was feasting on the bowling progressing to a superb 88 not out from 63 balls (6x4, 3x6). Boyce helped himself to two sixes off Flintoff, County closing on 185-5 from their 20 overs. A match-winning innings in the making from Boyce.

Lancashire opened with skipper Luis Reece and Flintoff but were always behind the asking rate thanks to a splendid bowling and fielding effort from County. Flintoff’s stay was ended when he was bowled by Sykes for a run a ball 16, with the score on 48. The carrot-topped tweaker displayed great exuberance when rearranging Freddie’s pegs with the 3rd ball of the 7th over. Sykes soon afterwards dismissed Liam Livingstone (5), caught by Thornely. A couple of overs later the obstinate Reece (38) was caught by Ireland, again off Sykes, who returned very impressive figures of 3-26. The only Lancashire batsman to show any real resistance, and pose threat, was Jordan Clark who made an undefeated 53 from 35 balls (5x4, 2x6). Other wicket takers were Ben Raine 1-35, Anthony Ireland 1-33, plus a run out. Lancashire finished 29 runs short on 156-6 from their 20 overs.

This game was very challenging for the scorers as after every over bowled by Flintoff, the ‘man from Sky’, was asking for a run through of the over ball by ball. He later went into overdrive asking for explicit details of Flintoff’s batting contribution. It was comforting watching him disappear into the afternoon sunlight upon Lancashire’s elimination from the competition!

We then had three hours to sit back and watch Hampshire and Somerset battle it out for a place in the Final, Somerset eventually going through as comfortable winners of the second semi-final.

Skipper Boyce lost the toss, and Leicestershire were inserted by Somerset in the Final. After his masterclass in the semi-final, Boyce (11) went early doors, to the 3rd ball of the 3rd over, caught in the deep by Callum Stewart off of paceman Skidmore. The patient Thornely, and incoming batsman Redfern then negotiated some tight bowling, only able to pick up singles here and there. Redfern (13) was next to go in the last over of the powerplay, having just hit seamer James Burke for a huge six. At the end of the powerplay, Leicestershire were on 39-2, somewhat below par.

Wells joined Thornely, and the pair had difficulty in forcing the pace. Thornely (35) from 33 balls, eventually went in the 13th over. Wells was joined by Hill, and the pair pushed the score along at a pace. Wells deposited Max Waller for two maximums, and then clouted Montgomery for another maximum. Wells (50) from 37 balls (1x4, 3x6) finally went, bowled by Robbie Montgomery. Hill (30) proceeded to contribute a magnificent cameo innings, from 15 balls. Tariq and Raine came and went in quick succession sacrificing their wickets in trying to force the pace. Aadil Ali (14*) made crucial runs from 5 balls received. His two towering 6s in the final over went a long way to deciding the outcome of the game. County finished their 20 overs on 159-7.

Leicestershire got off to a great start with Redfern bowling Chris Jones (0) with the 2nd ball of the innings. Alex Barrow and Burke, however, kept the scoreboard ticking along before Barrow (16) was caught by Sykes off trialist James Pearson, leaving the score on 40-2. At the end of the powerplay, Somerset were on 47-2, exactly on par with the D/L.

Pearson soon picked up another wicket that of Davey (13), caught behind by Hill, leaving Somerset on 56-3 after 8.3 overs. Then followed a worrying partnership between Burke and keeper James Reagan. The partnership had worryingly added 45, when Usman Tariq operating from the Castle End tempted Burke (39) into a big hit that was snaffled by Thornely on the long on boundary, Somerset now on 101-4 from 14.2 overs.

Keeper Reagan meanwhile had been finding the rope on regular occasions. Skipper Waller (1) went 2nd ball caught by Ali, running in from long on, off the bowling of Raine. Somerset now on 111-5 from 15.2 overs. Reagan was proving somewhat of a thorn in County’s side, but the tide looked to have turned in our favour when he was bowled by the 2nd ball of Thornely’s solitary over.

Reagan (44) from 28 balls had put Somerset in with a shout on 118-6. County had a brief scare when the incoming Roberts took 10 from the last 2 balls of Thornely’s over. This left Somerset on 130-6 from 16 overs, meaning 30 were required from 4 overs. Raine did a demolition job on Matthew Leach’s stumps to leave Somerset on 136-7 with 3 overs remaining, and 24 runs needed.

Any nerves, however, were settled by Pearson, eagerly bounding in from the Castle End. He first had Montgomery (0) caught behind by Hill, and then in the penultimate over from Raine, Skidmore (1) was run out after great work in the outfield from Boyce. Somerset started the last over on 148-9, with 12 needed for victory. Pearson appropriately ‘castled’ the dangerous Roberts with the first ball of the last over, leaving Somerset 11 runs short on 148 all out. Pearson finishing with very impressive figures of 3.1-0-17-4. Other wicket takers were: Redfern 1-19, Raine 2-30, Tariq 1-16, and Thornely 1-13.

At the end of the Final, ECB representative Alan Fordham gave a speech congratulating Leicestershire on their success, and presented skipper Matt Boyce with two bottles of champagne. It seemed strange though that there was no Trophy presented to the winners. Something possibly for the ECB to chew over at one of their meetings!

This was a great team effort from the 12 players who took part in the semi-final and final. Over the course of the 2014 2nd XI T20 campaign County have used 25 players, and each and every one’s contribution during the matches should not be forgotten when reflecting on this successful campaign. Also, do not forget Coach Lloyd Tennant, whose guidance and nous went a long way to achieving this success.


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