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Swindells century saves the day as Leicestershire seal One-Day title in final-ball thriller

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Leicestershire 267 for 7 (Swindells 117*, Evans 60) beat Hampshire 265 for 8 (Dawson 57, Prest 51) by two wickets

Leicestershire produced a stunning performance to win the Metro Bank One-Day Cup final, coming back from the brink of ruin after being reduced to 19 for 4 by Hampshire to triumph by two runs off the very last ball.

The scale of their achievement has many strands. This was the county’s first List A trophy since 1985, and first trophy outright since lifting the T20 Blast in 2011, which was also their last appearance in a final of any sort. But a much-maligned club, often the first to be mooted for the chop during the annual idle chats of trimming the county cricket fat, were driven to success by hometown heroes.

Harry Swindells carried the fightback with a maiden List A century, resuscitating an innings from 89 for 6 to 267 for 7 with an electric 117 not out. The guts of that rebuilding effort came in a 151-run stand with Sam Evans, whose own 60 was also a career-best in his sixth appearance in this format.

Both Swindells and Evans are Leicester-born and bred, having come through the age-group set-up at Grace Road. And it was another academy product, Josh Hull, aged 19, who held his nerve to defend eight off the final over, which included dismissing Liam Dawson for 57, just as it looked like the England allrounder was about to take his side over the line.

Keith Barker, the primary new-ball devastator with three of those opening four Leicestershire wickets inside 40 deliveries under overcast skies, had the opportunity to finish what he had started but could only work a low full toss from Hull to midwicket when four was required off the final ball. Hull, who bowled briskly and touched 86mph, albeit waywardly at times, finished with 2 for 75, the first of which was the valuable scalp of Tom Prest for 51.

In usual circumstances, few match-ups highlight the disparity in domestic cricket quite like these two sides. But a competition set against the men’s Hundred narrowed the margins – with both clubs sticking to the players who achieved qualification for the final at Trent Bridge.

Hampshire decided against calling upon James Vince, James Fuller, Benny Howell, Ross Whiteley, Brad Wheal and Chris Wood, even though Dom Kelly and Eddie Jack were away on England Under-19 duty. Dawson, having parachuted in for the knockout stages, blitzing Warwickshire with 7 for 15 in the semi-finals, continued on.

Leicestershire, meanwhile, left out Rehan Ahmed and Callum Parkinson, persisting with the core that had been along for the whole journey. It was by no means an easy decision given the desire to grasp positivity in a season rocked by the departure of head coach Paul Nixon midway through the summer and further losses on the playing group to come. But it speaks of the atmosphere among the squad that both Rehan and Parkinson were in attendance to watch history.

And yet, even with the odds relatively even, particularly as Leicestershire had triumphed in the group meeting between the two sides, Hampshire’s superior bowling attack threatened a mismatch as early as the seventh over. An inspired opening spell from Barker and Ian Holland had the ball hooping around corners and nibbling off a used surface. Barker’s three included the reliable Wiaan Mulder for a five-ball duck, while Holland did for the experienced Colin Ackermann in his last white-ball outing for Leicestershire before moving to Durham.

Just like that, Lewis Hill’s decision to bat first after winning the toss seemed foolish, especially given six of their eight wins in this campaign have come via chasing. And when Scott Currie – on loan at Leicestershire for the remainder of the County Championship season having debuted against Sussex earlier this week – prised out Louis Kimber and then Hill, you wondered if Trent Bridge might make up potential losses at the bar with savings on electricity. At 89 for 6 at the start of the 22nd over, surely the floodlights would not be required.

At that point, Swindells joined Evans to help Leicestershire up off the canvas before trading a few blows of their own. Their partnership, which came at almost a run a ball, was all the more special given they were not locks for this XI.

Peter Handscomb, leading the club’s run charts with 401, had returned to Australia, meaning Evans got the nod last week as the next in line having made two appearances already in the competition. But when Matt Salisbury pulled up with a hamstring injury on Friday, Hill brought in Swindells for his first one-day game in a year, partly for the extra batting, partly because he did not fancy keeping.

It will go down as an inspired late call. And while there will be some praise of Swindells’ abilities in hindsight, few could have expected what transpired. Not even those who started the first rendition of “Harry Swindells, he’s one of our own”.

If anything, it was sung as a rallying cry against the scoreboard. But gradually, as the man himself grew into his innings, the louder, more earnest it became, crescendoing when the right-hander slapped Barker back over his head for the boundary to take him to 101 from 90 balls. A strike so clean he started celebrating upon connection.

Quite how long 24-year-old Swindells remains one of their own remains to be seen. Having come through the academy and around the first team since the winter of 2016, he is due to be out of contract at the end of the summer.

The signing of Ben Cox from Worcestershire, an upgrade behind the stumps, and in front of them to go by career records, suggested his days were numbered. And at a time when it has never been more important to acknowledge the business side of county cricket, you wonder just how much stock will be put in a one-off knock to keep someone on the books who has not quite made their mark.

Swindells’ previous first-team game was back in June, the last of eight appearances of a collectively dire Vitality Blast campaign in which he managed 113 runs at 28.25. This was also just his third professional hundred. The last – a bumper 171 not out against Somerset in the County Championship – came back in July 2021.

At the same time, there is something to be said for sentiment. Those in the stands with Leicestershire in their hearts, particularly those who scampered on to the field after the winning moment, will be the first to tell you this game feeds off emotional attachment. Swindells’ part in delivering the county’s biggest day out in 12 years counts for something.

Nevertheless, Hampshire have plenty to rue. Even after they get past conceding as many as they did after such a dominant start, numerous opportunities to stamp their authority on their chase of 268 were spurned.

Captain Nick Gubbins breezed to 20 before chancing a single to Mulder at mid-off and was run out by a whisker. Ben Brown, having overturned an lbw appeal on 9 and survived his own run out chance on 13, pulled Chris Wright to Ackermann at a catching midwicket, ending a promising stand of 79 with Prest.

Even when Prest was dismissed for a fourth fifty-plus score of the tournament to make it 136 for 5, the coming together of Dawson and Joe Weatherley still had Hampshire out as favourites with 132 required from the final 23 overs. Both looked completely at ease, ticking off runs at will, at times striking the odd boundary, notably when Weatherley slog-swept Ackermann into the stands of midwicket for his first.

By the time they had made it to the 44th over, with 51 needed from 42 deliveries, the only moment of alarm had been when Dawson deflected the ball over his own stumps when he had just 10 to his name. But the stand came to an end on 82 when Weatherley tried to repeat the trick off Ackermann’s bit-part offspin, only to find sub fielder Will Davis at deep square, charging in to take a diving catch. The check from the umpires to see if the ball had been grounded – it hadn’t – only served to highlight just how outstanding a grab it was.

With 25 needed from 19, a shot-happy Holland went for consecutive scoops and found a tumbling Hull at fine leg. And even with that misstep, a deliberate edge from Barker and a gorgeous lofted cover drive for six from Dawson left the 2018 winners with 11 needed from 12, after taking 14 from Hull’s penultimate over.

When Wright cycled through different cutters and lengths to concede just three from the 49th, the pressure was squarely on Hull to make amends. Leicestershire made the choice to come in with just the five bowlers, meaning there was simply no one else for the task. But the rangy quick was composed throughout, even outsmarting the usually unflappable Dawson, who found Wright back at fine leg with a ramp that would have only worked if he was up in the circle.

The jubilation when the final delivery was played safely into the leg side will live long in the memory, somehow echoing around a ground with plenty of gaps, as stewards fought to restrain who they could from entering the field. Eventually, the intruders policed themselves, returning to the right side of the boundary and shuffling over to the pavilion to get a good view of the presentations and trophy lift, and a clear ear to the team song from the victorious dressing room.

Whatever you think of this iteration of the one-day cup, days that play out like this forge very special memories. And for a group of players who have not had many, particularly those like Swindells who have felt their days in the professional game are numbered, the manner of this victory and the renewed verve they have injected into a proud county should not be forgotten.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo



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