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Group 2, Birmingham, July 29, 2021, Royal London One-Day Cup
(50 ov, T:304) 296/9

Warwickshire won by 7 runs


Opportunity leads to knock-out as Leicestershire's rookies fluff their chase

A thriller on paper looks a touch less impressive on close inspection, as 716 spectators attest

George Dobell
George Dobell
Edgbaston was sparsely populated for Warwickshire's close-run win over Leicestershire  •  PA Photos/Getty Images

Edgbaston was sparsely populated for Warwickshire's close-run win over Leicestershire  •  PA Photos/Getty Images

Warwickshire 303 for 6 (Lamb 119*, Yates 72, Brookes 63) beat Leicestershire 296 for 9 (Patel 118, Swindells 69) by 7 runs
A few years ago, before Andy Murray, it seemed that if you owned a pair of trainers and a tennis racket, there was a fair chance you'd be ranked in the British top ten and given a wildcard to Wimbledon.
It's probably a bit unfair to suggest the same thing is currently happening in county cricket. But it does seem fair to observe that some young cricketers who, a few weeks ago looked nowhere near their county first teams, are winning opportunities in the Royal London One-Day Cup.
Opportunity is a funny word. On the surface, it looks like an unmitigated positive thing. But it sometimes comes in fancy dress: 'we'd like you to consider opportunities elsewhere', for example. Or 'how would you like an opportunity to be single?'; 'how about you give me your wallet?' That sort of thing.
And it's true that, in recent days, some young players at Scarborough or Guildford or Taunton (among other places) have taken an opportunity to show what they can do. That has to be celebrated.
They'll have benefited from the chance, too. To see Matt Lamb (the third Warwickshire player to record a maiden List A century in successive games) and Rishi Patel register their first List A centuries was to see talents blossoming. There's a lot to like about that.
But too much 'opportunity' can also pose a threat. And as you looked at the team lists from this match, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that this was dangerously close to a second XI match masquerading as first-team cricket. It was hard not to wonder whether spectators will continue to pay; sponsors will continue to invest and even whether List A statistics should still be appropriate. It's not so long since university cricket lost its first-class status, is it? These things can happen.
Take Warwickshire's opening attack, for example: it consisted of Jordan Bulpitt and Karl Carver. Both of whom have been signed by the club for a few weeks to provide cover for a club suffering from a spate of absentees. The rest of the attack included a 17-year-old, a 19-year-old and a 21-year-old playing his third List A game. One member of the playing staff missed this match because he was cramming for his A Levels, which are almost a year away. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. It's probably very sensible. But it does underline the view that this has become a developmental competition sometimes featuring players who, in other circumstances, might still be playing for their clubs and schools.
That's not meant to sound harsh. Many of those on show here (not least Rehan Ahmed, who is just 16 years of age) are talented youngsters who could have a future in the sport. But it's entirely possible to hold both views - to celebrate the opportunity provided here but worry for the repercussions - concurrently. This was a fun game. But you do worry what value preparation it will provide for facing Mitchell Starc in a World Cup semi-final. And if the premier domestic 50-over competition isn't doing that, isn't it struggling to justify its role?
Perhaps this is why only 716 spectators made it to Edgbaston on Thursday. For a ground with a capacity of somewhere around 25,000, it at least ensured few difficulties with social distancing. Maybe there is a lesson here. On smaller grounds, the likes of Guildford, a crowd of 3,000 can provide the feel of a vibrant festival. Perhaps there is a case for looking at hosting such games on outgrounds.
As it happened, this game developed into something of a slow-burning classic. Despite seeming to have it won twice, Leicestershire somehow managed to fall short by seven runs. Their head coach, Paul Nixon, described himself as "distraught"; he looked it, too.
The short story is this: requiring 87 more for victory, with eight wickets and more than 15 overs in hand, Leicestershire capitulated. Inexperience played its part, no doubt, but from the moment Patel hit a long-hop into the hands of deep midwicket, Leicestershire lost seven wickets for 70 runs. On an outstanding batting track and against an attack greener than the outfield, it felt like a missed opportunity.
There were heroes in the Warwickshire side, of course. Will Rhodes, their captain, showed the benefit of his experience with a career-best spell of bowling that at least forced Leicestershire to search for runs, while keeper Michael Burgess, sometimes standing up to even the seamers, ensured they felt the pressure and pulled off a couple of nice catches.
But Leicestershire will know that too many of their batters, not least Arron Lilley (batting at No. 6 despite a career-average of 11) and George Rhodes played unnecessarily aggressive strokes when a calm head might have been more appropriate. The wicket of Marcus Harris - run-out after dawdling for the first half of a sharp single - was also completely unnecessary, while Patel, for all his excellence, will know he should have seen his side home. George Garrett picked up two wickets when tailenders tried to scoop him; there had to be an easier way.
One of those, Dieter Klein, suffered what appeared to be a significant hamstring injury attempting a sharp run. While he continued with a runner after treatment, he was bowled next ball. For a 32-year-old who is out of contract at the end of the season, it was a worrying setback.
"Words fail me," Nixon said. "They were soft dismissals. We had the game won and we've thrown it away. Every middle-order player has had a soft dismissal. It was unprofessional and it was soft. I'm devastated."
The other opportunity Leicestershire had to seal this match came when Warwickshire, despite another impressive contribution from Rob Yates at the top of the order, slipped to 121 for 5 in the 24th over of their innings. Such a precarious foundation forced Lamb and Ethan Brookes to take a cautious approach to the start of their stand but, over time, they prospered to the extent that their sixth-wicket stand of 153 represents a record for Warwickshire in List A cricket. Lamb, in particular, played some impressive shots but Brookes, who took 28 balls over his first 11 runs, also became markedly more fluent and took Warwickshire to a total that might be considered only a little below par.
Patel and Harry Swindells appeared to have put Leicestershire will on the road to success with an opening stand of 159 in 25 overs. But when Swindells missed a long-hop and Patel seemed to lose concentration once his century was achieved, nobody else could contribute more than 16. Kids, eh?

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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Royal London One-Day Cup
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