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Leicestershire Foxes produced a clinical performance to get their NatWest T20 Blast off to a blistering start with a 27-run win against Derbyshire Falcons at Grace Road.
Overseas star Scott Styris hit a stunning 63 not out off 31 balls on debut as Leicestershire posted a daunting total of 197-4. Josh Cobb (38, 28b), Greg Smith (35, 31b), Ned Eckersley (33, 22b) and Tom Wells (13*, 9b) also made good contributions.
Cobb and Smith shared 69 for the second wicket, Eckersley and Styris added 44 for the 4th while Styris and Wells smashed an unbroken 59 off the final 25 balls to put the icing on the cake.
Marcus North hit a marvellous 90 off just 47 balls with six fours and the same amount of maximums in reply but Nathan Buck (4-0-26-3) excelled as the Foxes restricted Derbyshire to 170-7.
Earlier in the day, the batsmen shone after Wayne Madsen won the toss and elected to field first on a pleasant evening at Grace Road. The Foxes side was as follows: Cobb, O’Brien, Smith, Eckersley, Styris, Boyce, Wells, Taylor, Ireland, Naik, Buck.
There was an early blow as Niall O’Brien (0, 1b) got a thick edge to an attempted on-drive and Tim Groenewald took a terrific catch off Mark Footitt (4-0-45-1). The seamers were getting decent bounce early on but Cobb and Smith played well as the Foxes got themselves on top.
Smith cracked the first boundary over point in the second over and four leg byes followed as the Foxes moved to 12-1 after two. Smith cut powerfully past backward point to record another four in the next over and Cobb slashed down to third man to open his boundary account in the 4th.
A huge straight six followed from the next ball, and Cobb then pulled a six as Jon Clare (4-0-43-1) entered the attack. Smith nicked down to the vacant third man boundary at the end of that 5th over as the Foxes continued to prosper.
Cobb went on to crack a four through extra to register the team’s half-century and the 50 partnership in one blow at the start of the 6th over. The skipper’s third six followed, this time heading in the direction of the Meet. The score was 60-1 after the powerplay but the first over of spin regained some control as Wes Durston (4-0-33-1) conceded four.
Slow left armer Chesney Hughes kept up the good work for Derbyshire by going for six and Cobb was then stumped by Gareth Cross in Durston’s second over. It was a tricky period but the first boundaries off the spinners came in the 11th over as Smith and Eckersley both produced terrific reverse sweeps.
But a third wicket fell in the 12th over as Smith lapped a conventional sweep off Hughes (4-0-27-1) straight to Chanderpaul on the 45. Styris was the new batsmen, coming in to a good ovation from the Foxes faithful, and the score was 98-3 at the end of that over.
Eckersley swept and pulled fours in Hughes’ final over and Styris swept and drove fours in the 15th in Durston’s last offering. Styris then slashed Clare over backward point before Eckersley launched a huge six that clattered into the Meet.
The bowler gained revenge as the batsman struck the next ball high into the air and Durston got under it running back from mid-off. Two Footitt bouncers were pulled away for four and, after he overstepped, Styris absolutely clattered a free hit to the longest part of the ground to register his first six in Foxes colours.
Nineteen came from the over and Styris hit another massive six in the next over - down to long-on on this occasion - that went sailing towards the Cricketers Pub. Styris played a lovely lap shot to bring up an incredible 26-ball 50 (6x4, 2x6) and Wells got in on the act later in the over by smashing down the ground for six.
A wonderful square drive by Styris brought another four in the last over and a great hit over long-on sailed for six as the Leicestershire Foxes went perilously close to recording the 200.
Jigar Naik (4-0-39-1) bowled the first over for the Foxes and it was a tidy one. Hughes swept one delivery for four but the over cost only six. Seven then came from Anthony Ireland’s opener, including a driven four by Steve Moore.
Buck started a fine spell in the best possible fashion by taking out Hughes’ (7, 7b) middle stump with his very first delivery. It was nearly two in two as Buck put down a return chance off Durston (28, 29b) next ball but it was a very fine over with just two coming from it.
Moore punched and pulled a brace of fours in the 4th over and a couple of consecutive boundaries followed in the next over. The opener was looking in dangerous form but Buck reacted brilliantly by having Moore (24, 15b) caught behind by O’Brien next up.
The Foxes continued their brilliant start as Shiv Chanderpaul (0, 2b) then chopped Ireland (4-0-31-2) onto his stumps. North edged and guided Rob Taylor’s first two deliveries down to the third man boundary and the 50 followed in the 8th over bowled by Cobb.
North swept to the ropes as Derbyshire moved to 68-3 at the halfway mark and Taylor (4-0-44-0) nearly picked up a caught and bowled in the 13th over as Durston drove back hard. The number three then hit a six to deep mid-wicket and North struck two successive maximums in the next over off Naik.
The stand had reached 70 but Buck returned to pick up a third wicket as Cobb held a sensational one-handed catch to remove Durston at extra. North progressed to a 34-ball 50 (4x4, 2x6) and Derbyshire were 114-4 after 15.
Cross was held by Taylor at long-on off Naik in the 16th over before North went for broke. The Australian clouted a pair of consecutive sixes for a second time in his innings later that over and, remarkably, he did it again in the next over. North was now even turning down runs to keep the strike as he looked to secure his side an unlikely victory.
Derbyshire now required 55 off three overs but North kept his side in it by smashing two straight fours off Ireland. The left-hander was now just ten runs short of his ton but his great knock then came to an end as he was yorked by the impressive Ireland.
Groenewald squirmed a four over the keeper’s head to slightly spoil Buck’s excellent figures but he was run out at the start of the last over by bowler Cobb. The captain ended with economical figures of 4-0-28-0 to go with his good innings and breathtaking catch, and all told, it was a terrific start for the side.
The Foxes’ next challenge in the NatWest T20 Blast is a mouthwatering local derby against reigning champions Northamptonshire Steelbacks at Wantage Road next Friday night (5.30pm start).
* Thanks to Ed Melia for the photograph of Scott registering his 50.