Friends Life t20 glory for flying Foxes
Leicestershire produced a sensational bowling and fielding display to defy the odds as well as Somerset’s formidable batting order and lift the Friends Life t20 trophy.
They successfully defended a seemingly modest 145 for six to win by 18 runs under the floodlights at Edgbaston tonight.
It was not only a fine way to cap a wonderfully entertaining day’s cricket that never veered far from the unpredictable – both semi-finals were decided by one-over eliminators – but served as a fitting climax to Paul Nixon’s distinguished county career.
This was the wicketkeeper’s last game on English soil after 23 seasons – he will play in the Twenty20 Champions League qualifier in India next month – and, while it would be wrong to dwell on one member of a supremely well-drilled Leicestershire side, there can have been few among a near full house who would begrudge Nixon his moment of glory.
It is a measure of his standing that he was the first person his team-mates – not to mention those over-zealous Leicestershire fans who stormed the pitch – sought out when victory was confirmed.
Nixon, at 40 the oldest man on the pitch, may have managed just four with the bat, but his remarkable one-handed diving catch to remove Kieron Pollard is the image for which this match will be remembered. It would have made a player half his age proud.
Huge credit must also go to slow left-armer Claude Henderson, who bowled superbly on a pitch that offered appreciable turn all day to concede just 11 runs in four overs during a pivotal period of the game.
Part-time off-spinner Josh Cobb equalled the best finals day figures by claiming 4-22, all of which came courtesy of catches on the midwicket boundary by substitute fielder Matthew Boyce. Cobb also pulled off a stunning run-out off his bowling, having hit 18 off 10 balls earlier in the match.
Leicestershire’s fielding and catching was nigh on faultless throughout and, by winning this competition for a third time, they confirmed their status as the most successful side in domestic 20-over history.
Somerset, meanwhile, were left to reflect on a third straight t20 final defeat, a disappointment made all the more crushing given that they went into this match as overwhelming favourites.
Leicestershire's performance in the field spared them any regrets they may have had at wasting a promising start with the bat.
In the only game today not affected by rain, they will have had their sights set on a sizeable total after progressing without undue alarm to 94 for one in the 12th over.
However, Abdul Razzaq and semi-final hero Will Jefferson, who made 33 and 35 respectively, were among four wickets to tumble in as many overs.
Having been asked to bat first, Leicestershire saw Cobb hit two fours and a six before top-edging a pull off Steve Kirby to deep-square leg, where Pollard made a steepling catch look easy.
Razzaq and Jefferson displayed a good deal of common sense to complement some occasional lusty hitting, most notably when Jefferson launched Arul Suppiah for successive sixes over midwicket.
However, both fell in quick succession, sparking a slide that sucked the momentum out of Leicestershire’s innings.
Undone by a slower ball, Razzaq offered Pollard a simple return catch, and Suppiah exacted revenge on Jefferson by trapping him lbw as he attempted to sweep a delivery that demanded a straighter bat.
Nixon managed one leg-side four before his final innings in England was ended by a juggling Pollard catch at long-off. A second standing ovation of the day for one of county cricket’s greatest servants was no more than he deserved.
There was further reward for Suppiah when Jacques Du Toit’s reverse-sweep found Kirby at short third man, and it was left to James Taylor, with an unbeaten 18, to shepherd Leicestershire to respectability after Andrew McDonald sliced Pollard to a sliding Alfonso Thomas at deep extra-cover.
Somerset’s reply began in steady rather than spectacular fashion, and Marcus Trescothick’s growing frustration during an impressive over from Matthew Hoggard prompted him to pull straight to Cobb at midwicket.
Craig Kieswetter was also largely contained in making 17, an innings that came to an end when he played on swinging wildly at one of many McDonald slower balls.
Although Somerset were only 58 for one at the midway stage – 20 fewer than Leicestershire – the feeling persisted that the target remained comfortably within their reach. Cue the Henderson effect.
If the South African, with assistance from McDonald, was responsible for tightening the screws, Cobb was the beneficiary as the supposedly mighty Somerset collapsed from 84 for two to 115 for eight.
James Hildreth and Peter Trego found the safe hands of Boyce – on in place of Jefferson – either side of Nixon’s stunner to collect Pollard’s outside edge, and Cobb demonstrated superb reflexes and presence of mind to run out Suppiah without facing a ball as he fielded Jos Buttler’s straight drive.
With Buttler, who was taken just inside the rope by Boyce for 12, went Somerset’s hopes, leaving Cobb to add Thomas to his list of victims before Craig Meschede skied to point in the final over.
Taylor, who took the catch, found himself engulfed by Nixon. Seconds later they were in each other’s arms again.