LEICESTERSHIRE Foxes continued their 100 per cent start to the NatWest T20Blast campaign with a nine-run win over Birmingham Bears at Edgbaston.
Put in, the Foxes raced to 50 in the fifth over thanks to Luke Ronchi’s 23-ball 46, but went on to total only 147 for nine. At 72 for one in the eighth over, they seemed set for a tall score but the last 12 overs brought 75 for eight.
It was a modest total but one they defended with great skill, restricting the Bears to 138 for eight.
Clint McKay, fresh from a Foxes T20-best five for 11 against Worcestershire Rapids on Friday, denied the Bears a flying start with two overs for 11 runs and then the pressure was maintained by Colin Ackermann (4-0-21-3) , Cameron Delport (3-0-14-1) and Mathew Pillans (4-0-23-1).
Against a Bears bowling attack missing Rikki Clarke due to a bruised thumb, the Foxes were given a blistering start by Ronchi. The Black Caps star, who played for the Bears in last year’s Blast, smashed six fours and three sixes before another intended big hit, off Boyd Rankin, lobbed up to mid-wicket.
Mark Cosgrove soon edged Grant Elliott’s fifth ball to wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose and the innings went into decline. Only Delport (37, 30 balls, three fours) stayed long against an attack led by paceman Rankin (4-0-26-3), leg-spinner Josh Poysden (4-0-28-1) and medium-pacer Elliott (3-0-10-2).
Elliott’s second wicket arrived when Delport skied a catch and only Tom Wells (17, 15 balls) and Pillans (15 not out, 14) offered anything from the lower order.
Colin Ackermann had missed out with the bat but soon struck twice with his off-spin when the Bears replied, having Ian Bell caught at short fine leg and Sam Hain taken at deep mid-wicket.
When Tim Ambrose was stumped off Delport, Birmingham were 64 for three at the halfway stage, needing to find 84 from the second half of the innings.
That was far from easy against Delport’s skilful slow-medium and the accurate Ackermann and, as the required rate rose, the pressure told.
William Porterfield (30, 23 balls) and Elliott (18, 18) charged and missed and were bowled by Callum Parkinson and Ackermann respectively.
The Bears needed 44 from the last four overs and, after Colin de Grandhomme (24, 24 balls) edged Pillans behind in the penultimate over, it came down to 16 off the last, delivered by McKay. The Foxes captain closed the game out with predictable efficiency.
“We just weren’t quite good enough in the end,” admitted Bears wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose.
“We did well to claw it back after they had a lightning fast start and at halfway we felt we really had a big chance but didn’t get the second half right.
“I think it was our third game on that wicket so it was a little bit slow and they learned from the way we bowled and took a little bit of pace off the ball and made it pretty hard for our batters.
“Luke Ronchi’s innings was fantastic. We know from his time here how good a player he is and he played really well up top and made the most of when the ball was a bit harder.
“From the first two games we won we still felt we weren’t playing as well as we could and there were a few areas we could improve on and I think we’ve been found out in those areas in these last two games, so we have got to get better in those areas.”