Leicestershire edge semi-final thriller
Leicestershire booked their place in the final of the Friends Life t20 by beating Lancashire in a pulsating one-over eliminator at Edgbaston.
If fans thought last year’s memorable final between Hampshire and Somerset could not be topped in terms of excitement and sheer unpredictability, this game pushed it mighty close.
It was ultimately settled by Will Jefferson, who struck two fours and a six as Leicestershire overhauled the 13 Lancashire managed in their eliminator over.
He swept Gary Keedy’s fifth delivery to cap an astonishing game that featured two stoppages for rain, some madcap batting, kamikaze running and a controversial run off what many believed was a ‘dead ball’. Oh, and a six off the final ball of ‘regulation time’ from Gareth Cross to tie the scores.
"Will played a blinder," said Leicestershire captain Matthew Hoggard. "He used his long levers to great effect and thankfully we managed to scrape a victory.
"That’s the magic of t20. That’s why everybody loves this kind of cricket; you never know who’s won it. The crowd has got their money’s worth."
As Jefferson was swamped - as much as a man of 6ft 10in can be – by his jubilant team-mates, it was easy to forget that victory secured Leicestershire’s place in the Twenty20 Champions League qualifier in India next month – and thus delayed Paul Nixon’s retirement.
Their progress to 132 for six after they lost the toss – in an innings reduced to 18 overs by rain – also seemed an age ago.
Lancashire left-arm spinners Stephen Parry and Gary Keedy claimed 1-15 and 1-25 respectively, finding occasionally extravagant turn in conditions more akin to the sub-continent than a damp day in Birmingham.
Leicestershire were therefore thankful for Abdul Razzaq’s unbeaten 36 from 28 balls, which featured two fours and three sixes and supplied some welcome momentum to a fractured innings.
Glen Chapple, returning to captain Lancashire on what was only his third t20 appearance of the summer, had Josh Cobb caught behind with the first ball of the match, a nigh on perfect leg-cutter.
Andrew McDonald, the competition’s leading run-scorer, departed with a cut chin – courtesy of a lifter from Chapple – and broken bat after pulling Farveez Maharoof to mid-on, and Jefferson managed five fours in his 23 before having his middle stump pegged back by a Sajid Mahmood yorker.
Cue the introduction of spin, the basis of Lancashire’s t20 success this season. Wicketkeeper Cross was the chief beneficiary with two smart stumpings after Jacques Du Toit and James Taylor were lured down the track by Keedy and Parry respectively.
Nixon scampered 18 off 19 deliveries as he and the more muscular Razzaq added 40 for the sixth wicket, the Pakistani depositing Keedy, Maharoof and Mahmood over the ropes during a much-needed late charge.
What threatened to be Nixon’s last innings in county cricket ended in rather incongruous fashion when he was run out attempting to pinch a bye to the wicketkeeper off Mahmood. When Razzaq failed to respond to his call, Nixon merely continued on to the dressing room – and a standing ovation from a near sell-out crowd.
Chasing a Duckworth/Lewis-revised 134 from 18 overs, Lancashire were seemingly well placed on 51 for one when the weather intervened 8.1 overs into their chase.
A half-hour delay saw the target reduced to 80 off 11 overs, leaving them requiring 27 off 17 deliveries.
If Lancashire’s task was made all the more difficult when Steven Croft sliced the first ball after the resumption to short third man, few gave them a prayer as a further four wickets tumbled in the space of seven balls, including Stephen Moore for 43, during a needlessly frantic spell that can only be blamed on nerves.
Karl Brown and Paul Horton holed out at long-off either side of Moore slicing to backward point to give part-time off-spinner Cobb two wickets in as many balls, and Mahmood was comfortably run out after aborting a ludicrous second run to deep midwicket.
Cross scampered a bye off the penultimate ball of the match, and was left needing to hit the last, bowled by Wayne White, for six to take the game into an eliminator.
That he did so – clearing long-on by the slenderest of margins off a full toss – should hardly have come as a surprise considering what went before – and after.
Although Moore drilled the first delivery of the eliminator over, bowled by Claude Henderson, for six, Croft’s failure to score off the last two gave Leicestershire hope.
Jefferson took eight off Keedy’s first two balls before hoisting the fifth into the stand at deep midwicket to bring an astonishing game to a suitably remarkable conclusion.
"There’s no blame attached to anyone today," said Chapple, who nonetheless admitted his players were "very disappointed" by the result.
"We’ve given it our best and we’ve lost. We lost wickets after the rain and that affected us. When you’re in a run-chase these things happen."