Jonny Bairstow leads Yorkshire to stunning T20 victory at Headingley

THERE is a perception because of their record as perennial strugglers in the County Championship that Leicestershire are a cricket team there for the taking.

Jordan Thompson celebrates victory against Leicestershire. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Yet no county has won more than their three T20 titles, albeit the last of them now a decade ago.

Yorkshire in fact, have never found them easy foes in the format, having won nine and lost 13 of their meetings ahead of this match, with the White Rose county one of five never to have won the T20 along with Derbyshire, Durham, Glamorgan and Gloucestershire.

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But, man for man, pound for pound, this Yorkshire side is superior to Leicestershire’s on paper, a fact that they confirmed on grass last evening, although not without scare in a run-strewn contest.

Lockie Ferguson celebrates taking Arron Lilley's wicket for 24. Picture Bruce Rollinson

It helps when you have six current or former internationals in your ranks, of course, as Yorkshire did here, and it was one of them, Jonny Bairstow, who set up an 18-run triumph, the hosts scoring 240-4 before Leicestershire responded with a valiant 222-8. The match aggregate of 462 runs equalled the record for a T20 match in England set by Birmingham against Northamptonshire at Edgbaston three years ago.

After Yorkshire won the toss for the 10th time in 11 fixtures this season, opener Bairstow started the evening like a house on fire and the blaze never abated until he perished to the penultimate ball of the 17th over, caught on the square-leg boundary for 82 from 45 deliveries with four sixes and nine fours. Adam Lyth, with whom he shared 113 for the first wicket from 61 balls, struck 51 from 30 deliveries with four sixes and four fours.

Harry Brook hammered an unbeaten 48 from just 16 balls with three sixes and six fours, and David Willey, the Yorkshire T20 captain, celebrated his call-up for England’s three-match T20 series against Sri Lanka next week with 44 from 21 deliveries with four sixes and two fours.

It was slaughter in the sunshine before a sell-out crowd of around 4,000, with capacity still capped at 25 per cent due to Covid restrictions, Yorkshire’s total their third-highest in T20 behind the 260-4 against Northamptonshire at Headingley in 2017 and the 255-2 against Leicestershire at Grace Road in 2019.

Fans on the Western Terrace. Picture Bruce Rollinson

For lovers of statistics, it was the 20th time that Yorkshire have scored 200 or more in T20, the 14th time that they have done so at Headingley, and the third time against Leicestershire. No fewer than 178 of Yorkshire’s runs came in boundaries, pace bowler Gavin Griffiths returning figures of 3-0-60-0.

There was even an irrelevant failure from the world’s No 1-ranked T20 batsman to emphasise Yorkshire’s strength, Dawid Malan stumped for six when he danced down the pitch to Carl Ackermann. Otherwise, the Yorkshire batsmen dismissed, like Bairstow, were caught in the deep: Lyth, who equalled Bairstow by reaching fifty from 28 balls, holing out to long-on and Willey to long-leg. Brook’s innings at the end was a mini-masterpiece, the audacity and improvisation of his strokes breathtaking.

Faced with a target that was not so much steep as vertical, Leicestershire had no choice but to play themselves in by trying to hit boundaries. They did it so well that, despite losing two early wickets, they were ahead at the end of the six-over powerplay – 81 runs to 67.

Josh Inglis, the Leeds-born opener who now plays for Western Australia and Perth Scorchers, reached 50 from just 20 balls and, in tandem with Ackermann, took the visitors to 141-2 in the 11th over, at which stage they were on course to achieve the highest T20 chase in England.

Another boundary for Jonny Bairstow. Picture Bruce Rollinson

But when Ackermann swatted to cover, leaving exactly 100 needed from the last 55 balls, the task grew onerous. Inglis went soon after for a career-best 82 from 37 balls with five sixes and seven fours, Jordan Thompson pulling off a quite magnificent one-handed catch on the cover boundary to give Matthew Fisher one of two wickets on his return from injury.

Willey cashed in during the latter stages to cap a fine all-round game with 3-44, and Lockie Ferguson returned excellent figures of 2-28 from four overs.