Middlesex kept their Yorkshire Bank 40 hopes alive with a comprehensive ten wicket win over previously unbeaten Leicestershire at Grace Road. Leicestershire, who had won their first three matches in the group, batted first and had reached 102-1 in the 16th over before they slipped to 220 all-out; Paul Stirling (132*) and Dawid Malan (80*) then knocked the runs off with 9.4 overs to spare.
Middlesex omitted Tom Smith and Tom Helm from the nominated squad whilst Leicestershire included seamers Robbie Williams and Anthony Ireland who were formerly on the Middlesex staff. After Neil Dexter won the toss and asked the hosts to bat first on an excellent Grace Road wicket, openers Josh Cobb and Niall O’Brien had thirty on the board after only four overs. Cobb, who had remarkably scored hundreds in all three Leicestershire wins this season, was then dropped by Tim Murtagh, low down at third man off the bowling of James Harris.
Fortunately, the miss did not prove to be too costly as Cobb was bowled for 25 in Harris’s next over to leave the hosts on 51-1 after seven overs. Tim Murtagh replaced Toby Roland-Jones whose first three overs went for 24 runs with Gareth Berg replacing James Harris at the Bennett End. Greg Smith, who had joined O’Brien at the wicket, hit a Murtagh delivery onto the pavilion roof for a straight six and with O’Brien, took Leicestershire to 101-1 after only 15 overs.
After a single to O’Brien, Greg Smith (30) was well caught by ‘keeper Adam Rossington who was standing-up at the wicket, off Tim Murtagh’s bowling. Gareth Berg then struck twice in the next over, having O’Brien brilliantly caught by the diving Chris Rogers at backward point for 41 and then having Burns well caught by Ollie Rayner at first slip to dismiss Burns for a duck; that left Leicestershire on 103-4 after 17 overs.
With two new batsmen in, the run-rate slowed before Neil Dexter brought himself on at the Pavilion End and conceded nine runs in the over. However, Ollie Rayner struck in successive overs by having Thakor caught by Gareth Berg at short fine-leg for twelve and then trapping Boyce LBW for 22 to reduce the hosts to 138-6 in the 27th over. Thornely and Taylor then added a further 38 runs before Tim Murtagh returned and had Taylor caught by Ollie Rayner at short extra-cover for thirteen.
Anthony Ireland took nine runs off a Neil Dexter over but when Toby Roland-Jones replaced him at the Pavilion End, Ireland hit his first ball straight to Paul Stirling who took the catch at long-on to dismiss Ireland for twelve. The batting power-play was taken with Leicestershire on 194-8 after 36 overs but only three singles came off the first over from James Harris. Five singles came off the first five balls of the following over from Roland-Jones before Naik pulled him for a six over mid-wicket.
James Harris then bowled Thornely who had made 39 off 40 balls before Roland-Jones wrapped things up by having Naik caught by Ollie Rayner at mid-on for fourteen as Leicestershire were dismissed for 220. It was a good effort by the Middlesex bowlers who clawed their way back into the match after Leicestershire’s explosive start. Five bowlers each took two wickets with Gareth Berg taking 2-38 and both James Harris and Tim Murtagh taking 2-39, all from eight overs. Ollie Rayner took 2-32 from six overs with Toby Roland-Jones taking 2-45 in 7.5 overs.
Only a leg-bye came off the opening over of the Middlesex innings from Robbie Williams before Paul Stirling was badly missed by Greg Smith at third slip off Ireland’s bowling before he had scored. Stirling rubbed salt into the bowlers’ wounds by hitting the remaining three balls of the over for fours. Nine runs came in Ireland’s next over before he was replaced by Rob Taylor at the Pavilion End. However, Stirling was in superb form with powerful drives through and over the cover area and Taylor conceded 29 runs in three overs before Thornely replaced him at the Pavilion End.
Stirling hit Thornely for successive fours to bring up a 29 ball fifty (9 fours) and with Malan, brought up the Middlesex hundred in only the 12th over. With Stirling in commanding form, Malan was content to push singles to give him the strike but Malan reached his fifty out of a total of 135-0 from 58 balls (5 fours). Stirling reached his third career hundred in the forty over competition in the 23rd over, off just 71 balls, with his fourteenth four.
The Middlesex openers took the score to 187-0 after 26 overs before Malan hit Ireland for a four and a six over long-on, off successive deliveries. Naik missed a return chance offered by Stirling with just four runs needed for victory but Stirling hit the next ball to the boundary to seal a ten wicket win for the Panthers with 9.4 overs to spare. Paul Stirling was 132 not out (off 96 balls, 19 fours) with Dawid Malan 80 not out (off 86 balls, 1 six & 7 fours).
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