Leicestershire win by 5 wkts
Leicestershire's supporters have been waiting for the opportunity to head south for a September Cup final since the M1 was the sort of road on which people pulled the Morris Oxford over on to the hard shoulder, lit the primus stove, and got stuck into a picnic.
Thirty summers on (when the M1 is more likely to be clogged up with boiling radiators than kettles) the bluntest team in the Gillette Cup, and the most bankrupt in the NatWest Trophy, are there for the first time. The last two hours of this match took place in unremitting drizzle, although when the players wrung out their whites at the end, the puddles contained as much nervous perspiration as rainwater.
Leicestershire's victory target of 227 was nothing more than modest in slightly better batting conditions than the opposition had on the first day, but Essex are not the sort of team to roll over without a fight, and the hunting county never expected to canter home on a blast from the Quorn master's bugle.
In the event, Leicestershire hobbled past the post, home with one ball to spare after a breathless final over. Graham Gooch, the Essex captain, felt that it was unfair on the fielding side that the one ball to spare was a soggy one, and had the umpires taken the players off at any stage during the second half of Leicestershire's innings, Essex would have won on superior run-rate.
The only time Leicestershire were ahead on that equation was, as it happens, after that penultimate delivery, which Justin Benson top-edged for four (off John Stephenson) to finish the match. For the rest of the final over, Leicestershire very nearly dissolved through sheer panic.
With five wickets in hand, Leicestershire's requirement of three runs from the last over was effectively only two on the losing fewer wickets rule, but when Laurie Potter failed to score from the first four balls, Leicestershire were in real danger of being fleeced by the most accomplished pickpockets in the game.
However, Stephenson's fifth ball was signalled a leg-side wide, from which the batsmen scampered a single, and Benson then made the winning mis-hit. Essex's 60-over semi-finals are rarely without a dramatic finale - their previous three have been decided on wickets lost with the scores level - but it was a long way from being the 'great game of cricket' that the man-of- the-match adjudicator claimed afterwards. One-day cricket balcony speeches are as formularised as one-day cricket itself.
The man-of-the-match gong went, deservedly so, to the Leicestershire captain Nigel Briers, who all but saw his side past the winning post with an innings of 88 from 164 balls. He was dropped twice by Gooch when 26 and 61, both times after an anguished second grab, and his partnerships of 52 with Tim Boon and 86 with James Whitaker gave Leicestershire a solid platform.
Essex, however, applied such an effective mid-innings squeeze that they would probably have won the game but for an unfortunate accident to the former Leicestershire wicketkeeper, Mike Garnham, who was led off, courtesy of Benson's top edge, with an ugly wound to his right eye.
Benson was promptly dropped by Garnham's deputy, Paul Prichard, and Essex have had to call up Adrian Brown from Suffolk's Minor County team for today's Championship match against Nottinghamshire. The holders have lost their last two Championship games, and their season is threatening to turn sour on them.