Nottinghamshire Outlaws consolidated their push for a quarter-final spot in the Vitality Blast by easing to a seven-wicket victory over neighbours Leicestershire Foxes in their North Group clash at the Fischer County Ground.
A 96-run partnership between Alex Hales and Ben Duckett for the second wicket put the Outlaws in control as they chased 162 to win and although they wobbled a little when the pair were out in consecutive overs, Tom Moores and Dan Christian were able to see them safely over the line with seven balls to spare.
Hales raced to a 28-ball half-century and while he was not able to build on it substantially, it was still the innings of the night, containing eight fours and a six.
Harry Swindells (61) and Colin Ackermann (42) shared a 76-run partnership for the third wicket but Luke Fletcher, whose only previous appearance in this season’s Vitality Blast had been against Leicestershire at Trent Bridge, celebrated his return to the line-up by taking three for 17 as the Foxes were limited to a score that seemed 15 or 20 runs under par.
After making a busy start after winning the toss, moving nicely to 41 without loss in the fifth over, the Foxes stumbled at the end of the Powerplay as Mark Cosgrove sliced a well-disguised slower ball from Harry Gurney gently to short third man and Luke Fletcher bowled Arron Lilley for a two-ball duck to leave the home side needing to reset at 44 for two.
Captain Colin Ackermann, presented with his county cap just before play began, was quickly finding the boundary, helping advance the total to 78 for two at the half-way stage, Patel conceding 13 in the 10th over.
Ackermann and Harry Swindells looked comfortable, their partnership worth fifty in six and a half overs to give their side a decent platform at 100 for two in the 13th over. However, after Swindells had completed a resourceful half-century off 42 balls with his fifth four, the partnership ended in the 15th over as Ackermann mistimed a leg side full toss to be caught at deep midwicket.
Play was held up as fast bowler Jake Ball needed treatment on his left hand after an instinctive attempt at a return catch driven back at him by Swindells. Ball was able to continue and the pain was eased two balls later when Swindells hit him straight to mid-on.
The Foxes, 129 for four with six overs remaining, needed to accelerate to ensure they posted a total they would be confident of defending. They were donated five wides by Carter but the tall off-spinner recovered well from the lapse to take out Harry Dearden’s leg stump.
The finish was not as productive as they would have liked, however, Fletcher and Gurney sharing three wickets in three tight overs at the death to restrict the home side to 161 for eight, which seemed a below-par number.
Needing to score at a tad over eight and over, the Outlaws began brightly but lost Joe Clarke to the first ball of the fourth over, the opener finding Lilley on the midwicket boundary as he tried to clear the rope off Ackermann, having had a lucky escape when Callum Parkinson spilled a sitter at short third man.
Hales looked in the groove, however, hitting Will Davis for four-four-four-six in the fifth over, taking another couple of boundaries off Dieter Klein in the next as the Outlaws raced to 56 for one in the Powerplay.
Callum Parkinson and Lilley dragged back the flow of runs briefly but Ben Duckett eased the pressure with a couple of boundaries off Gavin Griffiths before Hales completed his fifty off 28 balls, celebrating with an eighth four off the next delivery by Davis as the Outlaws reached the halfway stage at 95 for one, needing 67 more.
The task became less straight forward when both Duckett and Hales were out in the space of eight deliveries, Duckett picking out virtually the only fielder on the legside boundary to fall for 47 when he swatted away a short ball from Dieter Klein in the 13th, before Hales was bowled for 60 making room to hit Parkinson through the offside.
The partnership had added 96 but the double setback offered a glimmer of hope for the home side, which would have grown had Harry Dearden not matched Parkinson earlier by dropping a dolly when Tom Moores had made only one.
Outlaws were still favourites, needing 36 from the last five overs, helped on their way when Dan Christian sent a couple of wide balls from Davis rocketing to the offside boundary, and he and Moores were able to complete the job with no further alarms.
THE TURNING POINT: The fifth over of the Outlaws reply, which saw Hales go after Will Davis with a flurry of boundaries to put 19 on the board five deliveries, signalled what kind of night it would be for the Foxes.
SHOT OF THE MATCH: Hales lofted the only six of the evening in that fifth-over assault, but the four he skilfully steered through a gap on the off side in the same over was pure quality.
THE UNSUNG HERO: Alex Hales was the match-winner with the bat but Luke Fletcher played a vital role with the ball, conceding only 17 runs and taking three wickets in his three overs.
WHAT’S NEXT: As the race for quarter-final places moves into the home straight, the Foxes are at home to Derbyshire Falcons on Sunday, with the Outlaws taking on Yorkshire Vikings the same afternoon.