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Worcestershire Rapids judged a run chase to perfection as they landed a five-wicket win against Leicestershire Foxes in the NatWest T20 Blast at Grace Road.
Tom Wells again caught the eye in striking 45 not out off 28 balls and four other Foxes batsmen made scores between 24 and 27 as the team worked their way up to 164-6.
The Rapids had success by taking pace off the ball as off-spinner Saeed Ajmal took 2-23 and Daryl Mitchell, who bowled a variety of slower deliveries off his usual medium-pacer's run-up, claimed 1-26 as well as taking three catches.
Mitchell completed a man-of-the-match performance by anchoring the innings with 67 not out while the Rapids hitters played cameos around him.
Although the Foxes never gave up as the impressive Ben Raine (4-0-28-2) came to the fore, Mitchell smashed a six and four to secure victory with four balls remaining.
Earlier in the evening, Josh Cobb won the toss and elected to bat first in glorious conditions at Grace Road.
The Foxes showed three changes from the Bears defeat as Scott Styris, James Sykes and Raine came in for Ramnaresh Sarwan, Anthony Ireland and Michael Thornely.
The Rapids’ preparation was not aided by being held up en route because of heavy traffic on a couple of major roads. They were without the influential Moeen Ali, who is with the England test squad, so Tom Kohler-Cadmore was brought in.
Seven came from Jack Shantry’s opening over, but five of those came from one ball after a run out attempt to dismiss Niall O’Brien went for four overthrows. Cobb pulled Chris Russell for four in the second over as the Foxes moved to 14-0.
Eighteen came off the third over, including sixteen off three consecutive balls as Cobb hit a six onto the roof of the Indoor School before pulling for four and driving over mid-on for a maximum.
Ajmal conceded four from his first over and Russell then took the key wicket of Cobb (27, 18b) after switching to the Bennett End. The batsman tried to strike over mid-off but Shantry took a great one-handed catch.
O’Brien (15, 10b) pulled a six but a second wicket fell in the fifth over as the batsman drove the seamer to Mitchell at mid-wicket. The score was 48-2 after the powerplay and Mitchell then bowled a tidy over that cost seven.
Eleven came from the eighth over from leg-spinner Brett D’Oliveira, including a swept four for Smith. The number three and Eckersley continued to be busy as the score moved to 79-2 at halfway.
Successive fours were struck by Eckersley off Mitchell at the start of the 11th over before the captain claimed a caught and bowled at the end of the over to dismiss Smith (24, 19b).
Eckersley (24, 20b) then fell to the first ball of the next over as Micthell took another catch, this time off Colin Munro (2-0-12-1). That paired Styris and Tom Wells together with neither having faced a ball, which was far from ideal.
The Foxes were 93-4 after 12 overs and Mitchell completed his decent spell. Ajmal then replaced Munro, and deft cut by Styris raced away for four. Wells then edged down to third man in the 15th over bowled by D’Oliveira (2-0-19-0).
Wells smashed Ajmal for a six that went in the direction of the Meet as the Foxes progressed to 121-4 with four overs to go. Adding pace to the equation helped the Foxes; as soon as Russell returned, Wells smoked over mid-on for four.
Styris then launched Shantry (4-0-42-0) for a six over mid-on before getting down on knee to lap a four. A two brought up the 50 partnership but Ajmal bowled a great last over. It cost three and two wickets were claimed as Styris (27, 23b) to Rich Oliver, and Rob Taylor (0, 1b) was pinned in front on the sweep.
The innings was threatening to peter out but 19 came off the last over from Russell (4-0-42-2). Wells struck the first ball of the last over for six to register the 150 and the all-rounder also deposited two full tosses for four down to fine leg and over mid-off respectively.
Whereas the Rapids opening bowlers went for 84 off their eight overs, the other 12 overs of spin, medium pace and cutters cost 82 – so the Foxes appeared to be in a decent position with three spinners in their line-up. But the Rapids, led by captain Mitchell, weighed up the pitch and conditions well and kept ahead of the rate.
Oliver cut and pulled the first two balls of the chase for four and another boundary came at the end of the over from Jigar Naik. Oliver then pulled Nathan Buck for four before a mistimed cut was dropped low down by Taylor at mid-off.
Oliver then slashed Raine high into the air behind the wicket but nobody reacted. Oliver picked up a single and then struck to the cover boundary after regaining the strike. Raine kept his cool amid the drama and bowled Oliver (22, 13b) with the last ball of the over.
Kohler-Cadmore cut his first delivery from Buck to the fence and another brace of fours arrived in the next over courtesy of pulls over mid-on. Mitchell cut to the ropes as the 50 came up and Kohler-Cadmore drove between cover and mid-off to pick up four more.
The Rapids moved to 57-2 at the end of the powerplay but Naik (4-0-32-1) bowled a good 7th over – it went for five and Kohler-Cadmore (23, 15b) swept to Buck at short fine leg at the end of it.
Sykes’ opener cost five before Naik conceded four as the spinners continued to squeeze. But Munro let rip in the 10th over as he struck Sykes (4-0-38-0) for two straight sixes as well as reverse-sweeping for four.
That over was worth 19 in total and put the Rapids in the box seats. A switch hit from Munro went for four in the next over as the Rapids moved to 101-2 after 11 overs, and Mitchell hit the returning Buck through mid-wicket for four. The paceman held his nerve and picked up the key wicket of Munro (30, 18b), who cut to Naik at third man.
The Rapids required 51 from the last 7 overs and Mitchell struck another couple of fours as the target came down to 34 off 5. Alexei Kervezee (7, 8b) then drove Taylor (3.2-0-30-1) towards Cobb at cover, and the fielder took a terrific diving catch.
Only three came off the over, including a leg bye, so the Foxes now had a sniff. But Ross Whiteley struck the next delivery over extra for four, and Mitchell moved to a 41-ball 50 (4x4) with a two at the end of the over.
The target was now 24 off 18 balls and Whiteley stepped across to flick Buck for four at the start of the 18th over. Buck took a nasty blow as Whiteley hammered one back at him, and Mitchell struck Cobb (0.1-0-4-0) for four as the skipper bowled the final ball of the over.
The Rapids needed 11 off 12 balls but Raine bowled a great over. Not only did it cost just three, he also had Whiteley (13, 12b) caught by Smith at long-off. Eight were required of the last over but Mitchell fittingly had the final say as he swept for six before launching a four down the ground.
The Foxes next NatWest T20 Blast challenge comes at Lancashire Lightning a week tonight at Emirates Old Trafford. The team return to action in the LV=CC at home to Derbyshire on Sunday (11am start).
* Thanks to Ed Melia for the photo of Tom Wells batting tonight.