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Lewis Hill laps up 'special' moment as Leicestershire rise above the noise

Young captain earns rewards after steering tight-knit team to memorable win at Trent Bridge

Captain Lewis Hill poses with the Metro Bank One-Day Cup  •  Getty Images

Captain Lewis Hill poses with the Metro Bank One-Day Cup  •  Getty Images

Lewis Hill has been at Leicestershire for the last 16 years, earned his first professional contract in 2014 and stepped up as club captain this season. If anyone has a full scope of the ups and downs of the county, it's him. A player who pushed to realise a dream that has, up until now, been punctuated by crises rather than glory.
As he sat at a table within the depths of Trent Bridge, Metro Bank One-Day Cup winners' medal around his neck, guffawing through every answer in his post-match press conference, his joy was infectious, even uncomfortable. While his team-mates were bouncing off the dressing-room walls after a remarkable two-run victory over Hampshire to seal their first trophy since 2011, Hill was almost physically fighting to suppress his emotions to find the words to contextualise the proudest day of his career.
He was able to, of course, summoning similar levels of composure that he had displayed in the field as Leicestershire defended their 267 for 7. It was a total built off the back of a remarkable unbeaten 117 from Harry Swindells, and 60 from Sam Evans. Hill's own 42 should also be registered, stemming the flow after the top-order had been blitzed to leave them 19 for 4 inside seven overs.
It helped that Hill's words were merely variations of a speech he had been giving behind closed doors for a while. Promises made to the squad that had now come to fruition.
"I kept saying at the start of the year that we could do something special with the group of players that we had," Hill said. "We have done that.
"We have pictures at Grace Road of T20 Blast wins, and we said at the start of the year: 'Guys, let's get up there; 20 years on, when you come to come to watch Leicestershire County Cricket Club, you see the people who won a trophy for the club.' That means a lot."
Leicestershire's wall of champions will now get an overdue update, with this group emulating the Blast winners of 2004, 2006 and 2011, while becoming the first team since 1985 to bring a List A trophy back to this corner of the Midlands.
That Hill was in this position, not just a winning captain but captain outright, is down to a malaise all too familiar with Leicestershire. A winless County Championship campaign in 2022 was followed by Callum Parkinson declining a contract extension - he departs for Durham at the end of this summer - and brought a change in leadership. Maybe Hill was chosen because he was already a popular figure, maybe because - as per those who know him - he is an empathetic soul, but this season has carried an unfamiliar optimism, even after the departure of head coach Paul Nixon in July.
Leicestershire are still just about in a promotion push, though they will rely on other results to go their way in the final two rounds. They came within 16 runs of a successful chase of 499 against Sussex last week, which would have been their fourth Championship win of the season. It would have also repeated their trick in 2023's Division Two opener when they pulled off a bumper fourth-innings victory over Yorkshire - the first time they had triumphed in a first-class match at Headingley since 1910. Suddenly, a county regularly mooted as an irrelevance, always first for the chop in any blue-sky thinking into the future of the domestic game, were fighting back.
"I just wanted to be myself through the whole summer," Hill said of his approach to leadership. "It has been a lot of man-management because I think that is how you get the best out of your players. We stuck together - obviously we had a bit of a hiccup in the middle of the year - but we really stuck together while the outside world kind of pelted at us a little bit.
"To stick together the way we have, I'm really proud of every player, and I'm really pleased for not just the players but everyone associated with Leicestershire - members, supporters, people who have worked there - to see some success. I am really happy that they can see us do this."
It's worth exploring the man-management element of all this. Leicestershire only lost once in the group stage but were dealt a blow when Peter Handscomb, their leading run-scorer, returned home to Australia after helping them over the line in the semi-final against Gloucestershire. Evans, the designated next man in, having already made two appearances in the competition, knew last week that he would be replacing Handscomb in the final.
By contrast, Swindells was only made aware of his call-up on Friday after Matt Sailsbury picked up a hamstring injury. And after deliberating with coaches Alfonso Thomas and James Taylor, Hill reckoned he could cope with just the four seamers and Colin Ackermann's offspin, and figured giving Swindells the gloves could ease his own workload. It proved an inspired decision and, of course, damn lucky, which is not to detract from Hill's game-management. Some of cricket's greatest captains have fortune on their side.
"Do you know what, it's one of the best innings I've seen live," Hill said of Swindells' century. "To come in under that pressure, to have not played a game in the competition. Like, to play like that - him and Sam Evans - was absolutely outstanding. And they deserve all of it because they train hard, and I'm over the moon for them.
"I don't have words for it really. To come in and do what he did is a testament to his character, his skill level. It speaks to everything about him; he trains hard. He is a cracking individual on top of being a really fine player. He is a Leicester lad as well, so I'm sure it means as much to him as it does to me and a few others."
Not keeping wicket allowed Hill to pull the strings more effectively in the field. Hampshire botched their chase at crucial junctures, with errors from experienced heads in Ben Brown, Joe Weatherley and Liam Dawson. But the pressure sustained in the ring and well-placed catchers in the deep - in particular setting fine leg back for the Dawson ramp-shot that ultimately clinched the game midway through the final over - was a feather in Hill's cap. And, of course, those of his attack.
Josh Hull was the standout - literally at six-foot-seven. The left-arm seamer was identified during the winter as a unique talent. "This guy has got something good," Hill recalled himself saying aloud in the off-season when watching the 19-year-old in the nets. That "something" came to the fore at the death.
Having removed Hampshire's own impressive youngster Tom Prest for 51 earlier in the piece, Hull held his nerve for the final over to concede just five when eight was needed. It was all the more impressive given his penultimate over - the 48th - had been taken for 14 to swing the game Hampshire's way. He finishes the campaign with 17 wickets at 24.23 from nine matches, with an economy rate of 5.45, and a few extra admirers after pushing the speed-gun into the late eighties during a televised game.
"He has played loads of games this year, and he didn't have his best day with the ball until the final few overs, but to come back and bowl like that and to have clear plans like that - he told us what he was bowling, and that is what I want in a young bowler, and he executed really well. I'm really proud of him.
"I have never seen a guy who takes information in so young, so quickly and so well. Honestly, I think he has a massive future ahead of him. He has a cool head on his shoulders, a fantastic family that supports him and has done a lot for him early in his career, driving him around. He is definitely one to watch in the future."
Difficult decisions were made, too, such as leaving out Parkinson and Rehan Ahmed - one of the most talented youngsters going in English cricket - which could have come back to haunt Hill but didn't. This success was as much about nurturing homegrown talent and arms around shoulders as assuming a more ruthless approach.
And if the club are to shed the "little old Leicestershire tag", it will be through bloodying the noses of the established forces on the field rather than cosying up to them off it. Even in the shadow of the Hundred, the manner of this One-Day Cup run has earned some much-needed respect and given them an extra chip to play in recurring discussions over their merits as an organisation within English cricket.
"I've been at Leicester for eight or nine years as a professional, starting when I was 16," Hill said. "I have seen some of the darker times at Grace Road, so it was great to see good times returning - the way we've played cricket this year, and this trophy, shows that we're going the right way. Teams like Leicestershire are needed in county cricket."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo