Terrific innings from Tom Wells and Ned Eckersley ensured that Leicestershire Foxes soared to a much-needed, well-deserved four-wicket NatWest T20 Blast win at the Durham Jets.
It appeared to be plain sailing for the Foxes on 133-3 after 13.4 overs in pursuit of 178 with Eckersley (43, 22b) looking in superb nick but the Jets propelled themselves back into the game with three quick wickets.
The required rate took off and suddenly the Foxes needed 26 off two overs with the Jets now in full flight.
But Wells, who smashed 31 not out from just 18 balls, took 24 off the penultimate over before former Durham all-rounder Ben Raine (7*, 6b) landed victory for the Foxes with a brace.
Earlier in the evening, Durham had several useful contributions in a total of 177-7 with Anthony Ireland (4-0-31-2) and Jigar Naik (4-0-33-2) the pick of the attack.
With blue skies, warm sunshine and Lumley Castle in the background, the Emirates Durham ICG looked a picture as the teams warmed up. The batsmen would have been eyeing up a short hit towards the dressing room area even at that early stage in proceedings.
There were two changes for the Foxes as Dan Redfern and Charlie Shreck were handed their Foxes NatWest T20 debuts. Redfern was given his opportunity in place of Niall O’Brien, with Eckersley selected to keep wicket. Shreck came in for the rested Nathan Buck for his first T20 game since 2008.
Josh Cobb won the toss and elected to bowl first, and Redfern and Shreck were immediately in the action with the ball. Eight of the first 11 Durham runs came courtesy of wides, and Phil Mustard then struck consecutive fours off Shreck (4-0-39-1) as the score moved to 22-0 after two overs.
A forward defensive from Mark Stoneman off Ireland pierced the off-side field and raced to the cover boundary to illustrate how tough it is to be a bowler in this form of the game. Raine (4-0-40-1) then conceded just five in his first over.
Mustard thundered Ireland through mid-wicket to collect another four in the fifth over and although the first five balls of Raine’s next over were singles, a six from the ‘keeper off the last ball of the powerplay saw the Jets on a steady flightpath with a score of 53-0.
Taking pace off the ball then worked a treat for the Foxes. Naik provided a breakthrough with his first delivery as Stoneman (17, 19b) fell lbw after attempting to reverse sweep. The over cost just three and Cobb (2-0-15-0) conceded five in his opener.
The first five balls of Naik’s second over were all singles before Mustard broke the shackles by splitting two men behind point to pick up four. Another boundary followed in Cobb’s next over as Calum MacLeod drove through extra cover.
The score was 80-1 at the halfway stage and Naik struck with the first ball of the 11th with a brilliant return catch to snare Mustard (36, 26b). A glance by MacLeod later in the over raced down to fine leg before Ben Stokes (20, 17b) swept Redfern (2-0-18-0) for four in the 12th over.
A couple of clean strikes from MacLeod brought maximums over mid-wicket as 15 came off Naik’s last over. MacLeod had played nicely in reaching 42 (28b) but Durham’s leading scorer was bowled by Shreck after stepping right across his stumps.
Muchall then played a brilliant cameo, his first four coming courtesy of a well-timed square drive off Ireland. Durham progressed to 123-3 after 15 overs and Stokes and Muchall each hit a six in the 16th over.
Raine bowled a highly eventful 17th over. There was confusion about how many runs came from the second ball as Muchall smashed towards deep extra; it looked like being either two, four or six but the batsmen eventually scrambled three after good work by a diving Ireland on the fence.
The next delivery saw Stokes fall over after being hit by a yorker and the batsman was subsequently run out by a wonderful direct hit from Wells, and John Hastings (0,1b) was caught at cover by Cobb at extra two balls later.
Eighteen came off the penultimate over as Muchall smoked a four down to long-on before the next ball squirted off the edge for another boundary, and a cheeky reverse sweep from Paul Collingwood (7*, 5b) also ran away.
Muchall then struck a six over extra from the first ball of the last over before Ireland collected wickets in two successive balls. Muchall was well held by Greg Smith at backward point before Scott Borthwick (0, 1b) holed out to Redfern at long-on. Ireland conceded only two from his final five deliveries, so the Foxes required 178 to win.
Matthew Boyce was promoted to open alongside Cobb, and a delicate touch from the skipper brought four of the first ball of the chase. Tight work from Hastings and Usman Arshad restricted the Foxes to 11-0 after two overs.
Boyce (10, 9b) drove and cut boundaries before Hastings (3.1-0-24-1) had the batsman caught by MacLeod. The left-hander was then dismissed by the Australian as MacLeod took a catch above his head at mid-off.
The score moved to 26-1 as Keaton Jennings bowled a tidy over but Cobb had a tremendous start to Stokes’ first over as a huge six to long-on that went into the car park was followed by a thumping four over the covers. Stokes responded brilliantly by conceding just one from his next four balls but Cobb smoked the returning Hastings over long-off for another four as the score moved to 43-1 after the powerplay.
Cobb moved to 29 (20b) before falling to a superb tumbling catch by MacLeod running in from long-on. The 50 came up at the start of the eighth over from Borthwick (1.5-0-21-0) before Smith played a powerful sweep that went like a tracer bullet through straight mid-wicket. A beautiful inside-out strike from Eckersley off the leg-spinner also found the boundary.
Eckersley clouted a six at the end of the ninth over and Smith played two reverse sweeps to greet Gareth Breese (2-0-17-0) into the attack with boundaries. The Foxes scored 13 off the over to move to 81-2, so were ahead of the Jets score at the same stage.
Collingwood (4-0-41-2) entered the equation and Eckersley smashed a six over mid-wicket as 12 came off it. The stand reached 49 before Smith (28, 28b) attempted another reverse, this time off the medium pace of Jennings (3-0-23-2), and was adjudged leg before.
A bizarre 13th over came which yielded a staggering 26 runs. Arshad (1.1-0-13-0) bowled a wide, followed by a two, followed by two beamers, one of which was cracked for four by Redfern. The bowler was then taken out of the attack and Borthwick’s next delivery went for four byes. Eckersley smashed a four and six later in the over to pile on the misery.
Redfern and Eckersley each picked up fours in the 14th as the Foxes appeared to be cruising but two key blows checked progress. Redfern (14, 10b) chipped Jennings to Hastings at deep mid-wicket and the Foxes were further pegged back when Eckersley edged high to Arshad at short third man off Collingwood in the next over shortly after making his career-best score.
The team required 38 from 30 balls at the end of the 15th over and Breese’s comeback over went for just four. When Rob Taylor (2, 4b) was caught at deep mid-wicket by Stokes off Collingwood, 34 were needed from 22 deliveries.
Only two came from the final four balls of a terrific over from the former England man - and one of those was a leg bye - and six arrived from the antepenultimate over from Stokes, including a lofted on-drive for four by Raine.
With 26 needed from 12 balls, Wells collected 24 off Collingwood’s last over. Wells smashed two huge sixes to mid-wicket in the space of three balls and the fourth delivery went for four after a misfield at cover. The fifth ball also disappeared for a leg-side six and two were scored off the last ball.
Raine clouted the first ball of the last over over the off-side ring to complete the job, with the Foxes picking up their first away win in NatWest T20 Blast this summer. The next T20 challenge comes at Yorkshire Vikings on Tuesday, July 1.