Foxes maintain 100 per cent start

NatWest T20 Blast Matchday 3: Birmingham Bears v Leicestershire Foxes


RESULT | Leicestershire Foxes (2 points) beat Birmingham Bears by nine runs

REACTION | Head Coach Pierre de Bruyn and paceman Mat Pillans spoke to BBC Radio Leicester's Mike McCarthy, the interview is available HERE

REPORT | Leicestershire Foxes bowled magnificently to claim their third successive NatWest T20 Blast win at Birmingham Bears this afternoon. 

Luke Ronchi smashed 46 off 23 balls (6x4, 3x6) as the Foxes raced to 69-1 after seven overs, and opening partner Cameron Delport weighed in with 37 off 30, before the team were pegged back to 147-9 off their allocation.

Run-scoring continued to prove difficult as the Foxes produced one of the squeezes that they became renowned for in their title wins of 2004, 2006 and 2011.

Off-spinner Colin Ackermann dismissed key trio Ian Bell, Sam Hain and Grant Elliott as part of a career-best 3-21 and Delport weighed in with 1-14 off three overs as the Bears ended at 138-8.

But perhaps the pick of the attack was Mat Pillans, whose 1-23 off four overs included the vital wicket of Colin de Grandhomme in the penultimate over of the match after the New Zealander had threatened to get his side over the line.

The game at Edgbaston was to prove an intriguing battle as although there was a short boundary towards the family stand, the used wicket offered plenty of encouragement to accurate slow bowling.

Leicestershire Foxes were unchanged for a third game in succession and were batting first for the first time in the competition after home skipper Bell won the toss.

Ronchi flicked the second ball of the game from Oliver Hannon-Dalby for six over square-leg and then delightfully drove his former Bears and New Zealand teammate Jeetan Patel off the back foot to the cover boundary in the second over.

A total of 14 runs came off three consecutive deliveries in the third over as Ronchi struck Boyd Rankin over mid-wicket for four and six either side of a shimmy down the pitch that resulted in a boundary over cover.

Ronchi then took Patel for a maximum and a brace of fours in the fourth over, and the 50 came up after 26 deliveries as Delport pulled for four and three respectively.

Another four in the mid-on region arrived for Ronchi but the batsman top-edged a pull off Rankin to a diving Hain at mid-wicket before the powerplay was out. The exciting knock would prove to be the highest score of the game. 

Leg-spinner Josh Poysden was defending the longer leg-side boundary from the Birmingham End with two left-handers at the crease in Delport and Mark Cosgrove. The former still managed to find the fence at straight mid-wicket with a strong pull.

Elliott, who played a key role in stemming the flow of runs in the Foxes innings with 2 for 10 off three overs, induced an edge from Cosgrove (3 off 6) and Tim Ambrose claimed the catch. Ackermann (2 off 7) was then dismissed for the first time in the competition, trapped in front after trying to reverse sweep Patel.

Leicestershire had lost some momentum and were 85-3 at halfway. Delport, who had only faced 22 balls at that point, then struck his third four through the leg-side as Poysden dropped short.

The left-hander had a reprieve as Aaron Thomason put down a chance at long-on but Elliott had his man when Delport got back on strike courtesy of a catch by Poysden at deep square-leg. 

After the 100 was recorded after 12.2 overs, the fifth wicket was claimed as Poysden pinned Hill (1 off 2) leg before.

The brakes continued to be applied as Elliott, Poysden and Patel proved increasingly hard to get away, although Tom Wells crashed the off-spinner's last delivery over straight mid-wicket for a maximum to take the score to 123-5 with four overs to go.

Leicestershire would still have hoped for a score of 160 from that point but Rankin and Hannon-Dalby restricted the visitors to 24 off the final four overs.

Rankin had Ned Eckersley (12 off 18) caught by Will Porterfield at cover before Wells (17 off 15) clothed to de Grandhomme at the start of the penultimate over.

Clint McKay (2 off 4) then lost his off stump to Hannon-Dalby, and Callum Parkinson (0 off 1) was unselfishly run out trying to get Pillans (15 not out off 14) back on strike, leaving the Bears with a chase of 148.

The Foxes made a good start in restricting the Bears to 34 for 2 off the powerplay. Ackermann took the wickets of Bell (10) and Hain (15), who have been thorns in Leicestershire’s side in the past.

Griffiths claimed a juggling effort at short fine-leg to dismiss Bell after an outstanding piece of work by the same fielder had kept him on strike earlier in the over. Hain then holed out to Hill at deep mid-wicket as Ackermann’s first two overs yielded a return of two for six.

Porterfield hit a couple of fours through cover and Ambrose edged Delport to the ropes, but the ‘keeper then feathered the same bowler into Ronchi’s gloves to leave the Bears at 64-3 after ten overs.

All-rounders Delport and Ackermann continued to be hard to score off but Elliott relieved some of the pressure by crashing the returning Pillans for six over mid-off in the 13th over.

There was a good response for the Foxes as Parkinson rattled a quicker ball through Porterfield (30 off 23), and the required rate was into double figures for the first time by the end of the 15th over - the Bears needed 52 off 30 balls.

Ackermann bowled the dangerous Elliott (18 off 18), who had advanced down the track like Porterfield, and although de Grandhomme struck his first ball for four, the rate was up to 11s by the end of the 16th. 

Only three came off the next over from Pillans to leave a target of 41 off 18 balls but de Grandhomme hit three consecutive fours as 17 runs came off the 18th over. 

Pillans continued to execute his death bowling plan to perfection and the quick bowler's reward was the wicket of the big-hitting de Grandhomme (24 off 14), who was caught by Ronchi to leave the Bears needing 21 off nine balls.

The target came down to 17 off the last over and Patel swung the first ball for four over straight mid-wicket to keep his side in it. 

But McKay used his experience to close the over out; Thomason (4 off 8) swung to leg and perished courtesy of a great catch by Hill just inside the boundary and Patel (10 off 8) was also held in the deep mid-wicket region, this time by Ackermann, as the Foxes maintained their 100 per cent winning start.

The next game for the Foxes is at Durham Jets on Thursday before the first home game of the competition against Northants Steelbacks on Friday (6.30pm start).

TEAM | Ronchi (wk), Delport, Ackermann, Cosgrove, Eckersley, Hill, Wells, Pillans, Parkinson, McKay (capt), Griffiths.

Bowling figures for Leicestershire: McKay 4-0-35-2, Parkinson 4-0-32-1, Pillans 4-0-23-1, Ackermann 4-0-21-3, Delport 3-0-14-1, Griffiths 1-0-9-0.

* Thanks to John Mallett for the photo of Luke Ronchi batting at Edgbaston.