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Matthew Boyce and Jigar Naik were the Foxes heroes as the team edged to a thrilling three-wicket win against Durham Jets in the NatWest T20 Blast.
After Josh Cobb won the toss and elected to field, the Foxes were superb on a hot and humid night at Grace Road to restrict Durham to 117-9.
Charlie Shreck (4-0-22-2) got the evening off to a good start, spin duo Naik (4-0-17-1) and Josh Cobb (4-0-24-2) suffocated the Jets in the middle, while Ben Raine (4-0-27-2) Scott Styris (2-0-10-1) and debutant Atif Sheikh (2-0-15-0) also bowled well.
The Foxes were struggling on 64-6 in the 13th and although Boyce and Raine (13, 14b) pulled things around to 90-7, the Foxes still required 28 from 18 balls when the former Durham man played on.
Naik followed up his economical work with the ball by smashing 16 off eight balls, including a crucial six, while Boyce was there at the end with a vital unbeaten 46 – the highest score of the match.
The duo shared an unbroken 30 in 2.5 overs to knock the Jets out of the competition. That was particularly harsh on Graham Onions (4-0-15-3) and Gareth Breese (4-1-12-1), who were outstanding for the visitors.
Earlier in the game, Shreck struck with the second ball of the game as Niall O’Brien took a brilliant one-handed diving catch to remove Scott Borthwick (0, 1b). The duo nearly combined to remove Jets top-scorer Phil Mustard (29, 32b), but the chance off the fifth ball of the over went to ground.
Scotland international Calum MacLeod (15, 17b) hit the first four by glancing Sheikh, who was in for the injured Anthony Ireland. Mustard continued to lead a charmed life; a clip off Sheikh (2-0-15-0) headed straight to Matthew Boyce at mid-wicket but the ball dropped just short.
Shreck again bowled a tidy line in the third over but MacLeod somehow managed to fine the third man boundary as he attempted to heave to the leg-side. Mustard had gone eight balls without scoring but the batsman cracked successive Sheikh deliveries to the boundary at backward point in the fourth over.
The over tally of ten doubled the score, and Raine came on to bowl the fifth over. The second ball smacked MacLeod on the inside of the knee and there was a lengthy stoppage as Borthwick came back out as a runner. The batsman was clearly struggling and skied at the end of the over, Cobb taking the catch moving back from cover.
Former England international Paul Collingwood (0, 1b) faced the next ball as the batsmen crossed, and he chopped Styris’ first delivery onto his wicket. The over cost just a single as the Jets limped to 26-3 from their powerplay. Naik’s tidy opener went for five but the first ball of Styris’ (2-0-10-1) second over slipped away for five wides. Mustard swept the last ball of the ninth over to the ropes – it was the first four off the bat for 32 balls.
It took the Jets 10.1 overs to register their 50, but Mustard launched the first ball of the 11th over bowled by Cobb for six. The left-hander perished to the next ball trying to sneak a second run, as Raine’s accurate throw was followed by quick hands by O’Brien. Skipper Mark Stoneman (9, 17b) holed out to Boyce at deep mid-wicket later in the over, and Gordon Muchall hit the last ball for four - so it was an eventful over with 13 runs and two wickets.
Cobb struck again with the first ball of his next over, Ryan Pringle (3, 5b) stumped by a mile by O’Brien, and Naik gained deserved with the final ball of his spell as Breese (5, 8b) swatted a short delivery straight down Ned Eckersley’s throat at deep backward square-leg. The score was 82-7 after 16 overs, with the spin twins having completed their super spells.
A stand of 32 developed between Muchall, who ended unbeaten on 28 off 23 balls, and Mark Wood. Ten were gathered from Shreck’s comeback over and Muchall nudged Raine down to third man for four as nine were scored in the antepenultimate over.
The hundred came up at the end of the 18th over and Wood launched a four off the first ball of the 19th over. Shreck held his nerve to york Wood (12, 11b) with the fifth delivery and although Chris Rushworth (5, 4b) smashed a four wide of mid-off, he picked out Cobb at cover next ball as Raine collected his second wicket.
The Foxes got off to great start as O’Brien pulled, glanced and cut to the ropes in the first over and Cobb then smashed Onions over mid-off to the ropes. But progress was checked with two wickets in two balls as Cobb (5, 4b) top edged high to Mustard off Onions - those in the East Midlands will appreciate the irony of that wicket - and O’Brien cut to Collingwood at backward point.
Eckersley thrashed Wood over backward point for four but Onions continued to impress. His second over went for just a single, and the seamer picked up his third success in as many overs when Smith (4, 10b) pulled to a scampering Borthwick in the deep.
Onions had 3-8 as the Foxes moved to 34-3 after the powerplay and the Jets continued to squeeze as Eckersley (11, 16b) cut Wood onto his stumps in the 7th over. Boyce glanced Breese for a welcome four in the next over, and 14 came from the 9th. Boyce caressed a brace of successive boundaries through the covers before Styris cut powerfully for four at the end of the over.
Only two came from Breese’s second over, and the score was 58-4 at halfway. Collingwood conceded three in his opener and the pressure told as Breese took a return catch to end the stay of Styris (9, 12b). It was part of a wicket maiden for the off-spinner, the Foxes now 61-5 after 12. The Jets continued to dominate as Tom Wells (0, 5b) edged Collingwood to Mustard in the next over.
But Boyce was still there, and his presence at the crease was to prove crucial for the Foxes. Breese finished his marvellous spell before Raine shimmied to strike Collingwood through mid-wicket for four at the start of the 15th over. The all-rounder recovered to go for a brace of singles off the remainder of the over, leaving the Foxes a testing target of 42 off 30 balls.
An inside edge from Raine off the last ball of Onions’ spell brought an important boundary and Boyce cut the third ball of Collingwood’s final over to the ropes. But the bowler picked up another wicket at the end of the 17th over, Raine (13, 14b) unlucky to clatter into his stumps.
The chase was now 28 off 18 balls and Boyce struck the second ball of the 18th over down to the third man boundary. However, only seven came from it, and the Foxes were in desperate need of a good over. It duly arrived, with 15 being added to the total. After a leg bye, Naik struck a six over long-on before top-edging over Mustard for four. A two was followed by a single, and another one arrived after a full-blooded drive from Boyce smashed the ball into Naik at the non-striker’s end.
The final over was tense; four singles were scrambled to leave two needed off two balls. Boyce then pulled the winning boundary to complete a Durham double for the Foxes, who take on Nottinghamshire Outlaws at Trent Bridge on Sunday afternoon (2.30pm start).
* Thanks to Ed Melia for the photo of Matthew Boyce and Jigar Naik.