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Foxes keep thier cool

Even by the standards set in the three seasons of Twenty20 cricket at Grace Road, last night was a little bit special.

Even by the standards set in the three seasons of Twenty20 cricket at Grace Road, last night was a little bit special.

More than 5,500 people crammed into the County Ground, the vast majority urging Leicestershire Foxes to victory over the Middlesex Crusaders with a place at finals day on Saturday week the prize on offer.

They were rewarded, too, as a disciplined performance with bat and ball earned the Foxes a 19-run victory, booking their finals place for the third consecutive season.

By Twenty20 standards, 19 runs is a convincing win but at the halfway stage the game was in the balance after Leicestershire posted a total of 159-6, a target that was challenging without being daunting.

But, by the time Charl Willoughby had removed Owais Shah, Ed Smith and Paul Weekes in a devastating spell of swing bowling, the Foxes were on the brink of an outstanding achievement with the Crusaders crumbling to 16-3 in the sixth over.

At that point Willoughby had 3-4 from his three overs and had helped his side but the game in a vice-like grip as the run rate spiralled up to more than 10 an over. Scott Styris and Jamie Dalrymple threatened to wrest control with a fourth-wicket stand of 87 in the next 10 overs but, when Dalrymple was caught by Willoughby - who else? - for 39 off Claude Henderson the pressure on Middlesex was immense.

What is more, the crowd, who had been getting a little edgy, had their belief renewed and, although Styris went past 50, neither he, nor any of his colleagues, could launch the monster over that might just have turned things the Crusaders' way.

Instead the rate grew. Darren Maddy took a superbly-judged catch on the boundary to end the threat posed by Ed Joyce in the 18th over, Claude Henderson conceding just five runs to leave the visitors requiring 38 from the last 12 balls.

With the Foxes scenting victory, that was the longest of long shots, which became almost impossible when Ottis Gibson gave up just five runs in the penultimate over, varying his pace to bamboozle Ben Hutton. A target of 33 from the last over was out of the question, Jeremy Snape holding a skier from Hutton off the first ball from Maddy to end the game as any kind of contest.

Ben Scott was run out after that and, although Styris clubbed a six and a four from the final two deliveries to finish unbeaten on 73, the crowd were not to be denied the opportunity of pouring on to the field to celebrate in front of the pavilion.

It was another triumph for the side's character because, at one point in their own innings, the Foxes looked likely to struggle to reach 150.

Maddy and HD Ackerman gave them a brisk start with 43 from the first five overs, and Chris "Rocket'' Rogers continued the good work when Ackerman was first out.

Rogers and Maddy added 36 in four overs before Maddy fell to Chris Peploe's slow left-arm for 36. Rogers, though, was clearly brimming with confidence after his double ton against Australia and continued putting bat to ball with great effect even though he was playing his first Twenty20 game in this country.

He and James Allenby, in for the injured John Sadler, took the score past 100 and all seemed set fair for a total around the 180 mark. Suddenly, though, the Foxes stalled, pegged back by some excellent work from Peploe. First he had Allenby smartly caught at mid-wicket. Then, next ball, he removed Rogers for 35, the Western Australian run out at the non-striker's end as Peploe fielded from his own bowling to leave the ground almost silent.

At 106-4 after 14 overs the Foxes were faced with rebuilding - and with precious little time in which to do so. And in the event it was not until the last two overs that they really opened up, Paul Nixon and Jeremy Snape taking 16 from the penultimate over sent down by Alan Richardson, 12 more coming off Melvyn Betts' final over.

The efforts of the fifth-wicket pair were crucial, Snape eventually run out for 23 but Nixon finishing unbeaten on 26 from just 18 deliveries.

In all 45 runs came from the final 30 balls - enough to make the Foxes slight favourites and, 20 overs later, enough to send their supporters into raptures.

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