Leicestershire 251 for 8 (Budinger 102, Handscomb 69) beat Essex 250 for 8 (Allsion 85, Thain 75*) by two wickets
The 23-year-old left-hander – coincidentally born in Colchester although brought up in Australia – hammered 10 fours and six sixes in a 74-ball 102 as this club ground in the southeast of Leicestershire hosted the county’s first XI for the first time, lifting his aggregate in this year’s 50-over competition to 365 at an average of 60.83.
On a good pitch, teenagers Charlie Allison (85) and Noah Thain (75 not out) both made their highest scores in senior cricket as Essex totalled 250 for eight after opting to bat first, the two 18-year-olds putting on 105 in 18 overs for the sixth wicket.
Allison – younger brother of seamer Ben – had shared a 75-run partnership with Australian all-rounder Beau Webster (35) for the fourth wicket. Chris Wright, Josh Hull and Tom Scriven took two wickets each for the Foxes.
This followed a rocky start that saw Essex 20 for three inside the first eight overs as Wright dismissed Robin Das, was caught at midwicket, and Luc Benkenstein, taken at point, off mistimed shots before Tom Westley was run out by Scriven’s direct hit after chancing a risky single to mid-on.
Webster and Allison’s 19-over stand began the Essex fightback before the recovery effort was checked just past the halfway point when Scriven, who conceded only 19 runs in his first seven overs, removed Webster and Simon Harmer with consecutive deliveries.
Allison grew in confidence, completing a 70-ball half-century – his second in the competition – by driving Colin Ackermann’s off-spin down the ground for the first of his three sixes, going on to pull Mulder into the netting fence protecting neighbouring houses to pass his previous best of 70 against Middlesex four days ago, and lofting a third maximum over long-on as Scriven’s figures began to suffer.
He must have been backing himself to post a maiden hundred with five overs remaining but, having been put down at long-off on 83, was bowled by Mulder, stepping across the stumps to play a scoop but missing.
Thain and William Buttleman maintained the momentum. Thain went to his maiden fifty off 56 balls and Buttleman’s 22 off 15 helped add 49 in the final five overs before he holed out to long-on as Hull picked off him and Jamal Richards in the last over to lift his wickets tally in his debut season in the competition to 12.
Leicestershire’s batting has been a revelation in this competition and they began their reply with the positive approach that has been their hallmark, racing to 67 for two in the first 10 overs. They lost Rishi Patel, caught behind, and skipper Lewis Hill, bowled not offering a shot, as Aaron Beard struck twice in three balls in his fourth over but Budinger set the tone again, crashing three sixes and six fours in a 31-ball half-century, his fourth in five innings.
Budinger, who moved to Leicestershire from Nottinghamshire after finishing last season on loan at Grace Road, had a reputation for explosive but short-lived innings in all forms of cricket yet this competition has seen him turn a corner, which his innings here seemed to encapsulate.
Doubtless, with Handscomb offering advice, he showed he can be patient as Webster, Harmer and Westley combined in a tight 10 overs.
But after Harmer uncharacteristically dropped one in his arc, which he pulled for his fourth six, Budinger went after the medium pace of Thain with immediate success. His fifth six took him past his previous highest score – 89 against Gloucestershire for Nottinghamshire last summer – before his sixth propelled him to 99, followed after a moment’s hesitation by a single off a misfield. He was celebrating even before he completed the run, earning a hug from Handscomb for good measure.
His downfall came shortly after the halfway drinks break when he sent one straight up in the air from 19-year-old seamer Richards – one of four teenagers in a decidedly youthful Essex team. Ackermann soon followed, leg before playing back to Nijjar’s accurate left-arm spin, at which point Leicestershire needed 87 from 141 balls.
Harmer bowled Handscomb for a 94-ball 69, Nijjar dismissed Mulder caught behind and Tom Scriven leg before, and Roman Walker holed out off Webster to keep Essex in the hunt. But Wright was able to hit Webster through the covers for four to avoid any further wobbles.