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    Monday 26 January 2015

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O'Brien shines after top work by spinners

Niall O’Brien’s stunning unbeaten century guided Leicestershire Foxes to a vital six-wicket win against Hampshire in another rain-affected Royal London One-Day Cup game.

After winning the toss, Hampshire raced to 88-0 in the 13th over but were struggling on 171-7 after 35 overs after James Sykes ended with terrific figures of 10-0-34-3.

Fellow spinner Dan Redfern (10-0-43-2) also shone but half-centurion Sean Terry shared 70 for the eighth wicket with Chris Wood (27) as Hants posted a competitive 275-9 from their 50 overs.

Rain arrived just after the conclusion of the innings and it looked as though the game might be abandoned at one stage. But the precipitation relented and the Foxes were set 186 from 25 overs after Duckworth-Lewis calculations.

It looked a tall order given the home side had three good spinners on a surface that suited them – especially as Hampshire would have relished a shortened encounter given their last outing was a terrific T20 quarter-final win at Nottinghamshire Outlaws.

Hampshire have now reached T20 Finals Day for five years in succession, a new record in the English competition, but this was the Foxes' night.

O’Brien paced his innings to perfection; with ten runs needed off the last over, the batsman hit a four and six off the first two balls. It was the seventh maximum of a tremendous knock and he ended on 105 not out from just 72 balls.

It means the Foxes have now won two of the first half of their pool fixtures and are fourth in Group A ahead of two big home games in the space of three days against Yorkshire Vikings (Friday) and Northamptonshire Steelbacks (Sunday, both 10.30am start).

Leicestershire Foxes made two changes to the side that lost to Gloucestershire yesterday. Already missing one-day captain Josh Cobb (thumb), stand-in captain Scott Styris also missed out through injury so Matthew Boyce took the reins. Charlie Shreck was rested, and Sykes and Nathan Buck came into the XI.

Hampshire were without three key players. Sunday’s matchwinner James Vince is away with England Lions and Glenn Maxwell and Kyle Abbott, who have been sharing overseas duties, have been required for training camps by their countries.

Even without Vince, Hampshire raced away at the start through Carberry and Adams but then faltered after Adams (24, 31b) and Carberry (61, 50b) both fell to Redfern. The off-spinner, who did a grand job for his side, had Adams caught by Shiv Thakor at mid-wicket while Carberry was bowled.

Hampshire saw Adam Wheater (7, 11b) caught by O’Brien off Jigar Naik (9-0-53-1) as they slumped from 88-0 to 99-3, and the Foxes twice took two wickets for the addition of six runs to take control.

Sean Ervine (13) was run out by a Thakor/Naik combination before Liam Dawson (2, 3b) was brilliantly caught by Boyce at long-off off Sykes, Hampshire going from 133-3 to 139-5. Will Smith (40, 54b) and Matt Coles (1, 7b) took the score to 165 but Hants were then 171-7 as Sykes had them held by Redfern at cover and Anthony Ireland at long-on respectively.

Seven wickets had been taken for 83 in 22 overs – and much of the credit for that must go the Foxes spinners, who between them claimed 6-130 in 29 overs when the pressure was on.

Hampshire were revived from 171-7 by a stand of 70 in 10.1 overs between Terry and Wood for the eighth wicket before Ireland (10-1-50-2) dismissed both batsmen in two balls. The seamer pinned Wood in front at the end of the 45th over before O'Brien, who was standing up, took a fine catch to dismiss Terry at the start of the 47th. The young batsman had made a competition-best 63 (57b).

The Foxes would have been delighted with the double strike but even after Terry was ninth out at 246, there was last-wicket defiance from Danny Briggs and James Tomlinson, who put on an unbeaten 29 in the last 23 balls.

At the close of the innings, Leicestershire would have been required to score at the rate of 5.5 an over but a deluge wiped three hours from the playing time and the target was revised to more than seven an over under the Duckworth-Lewis calculations.

In effect Leicestershire had half the overs in which to score about two-thirds of Hampshire’s total, daunting enough at the best of times, but O’Brien was soon in his stride and the new target always looked to be in sight.

So it proved. Angus Robson (15, 13b) mistimed a pull to Danny Briggs at mid-off at 28 but then came the highest stand of the match, 95 between O’Brien and the in-form Greg Smith (34, 37b) for the second wicket in 12.1 overs.

Smith went with 63 to go to a brilliant diving catch by Coles at mid-on and Hampshire hopes were raised briefly when Boyce and Redfern fell in quick succession only for Tom Wells (10*, 11b) to keep O’Brien company as the Foxes kept their nerve and their concentration.

O’Brien’s 50 came off 36 balls and his second half-century came off the same amount of deliveries. He had one escape when Tomlinson on the mid-wicket ropes failed to hold on, although he managed in the same action to avert another six to the Ireland international.

O’Brien said: “I thought it was a fair score to chase, the equation was about right. We have done poorly in the County Championship and the Twenty20 with a young side so this has kept our season going. We have big matches coming up against Yorkshire and Northamptonshire.

“I got a ton here for Northants in 2011 and I felt I owed the side some runs. It helped that batting got better as the result of the rain. It was very important I was there at the end to get the lads home but the real man-of-the-match was young James Sykes who took three very economical wickets."


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