VIEW FROM THE BLUES: Keogh’s class rescues Northants after Willey fireworks

TOUCH OF CLASS - Northants batsman Rob Keogh
TOUCH OF CLASS - Northants batsman Rob Keogh

Kevin Pietersen may have given England 355 reasons to re-employ him, but guys like David Willey are the nation’s future now, the County man yet again thrashing a thrilling century in the championship this week.

As amazing as Pietersen’s knock was, younger guys like Ben Stokes, Willey, Alex Hales and Jos Butler will compete with Australia and get Andrew Strauss out of the big hole he appears to be digging.

I did think Strauss was rather vindictive though.

At Derby for this week’s championship game, it was the batsmen who got Northants out of their particular hole as David Ripley dispatched another batting-heavy 11 to the midlands not to lose, and so it proved, just.

The players ‘parked the bus’, as Jose Mourinho calls it, for a thrilling draw.

It’s normally a rice paddy up there in Derby at this time of the year, but there is something for everyone these days as the young and ambitious Derbyshire push for top four with early wins.

But at 151 for seven it looked like the visitors’ day on Sunday as Northants’ powerful seam attack took regular wickets with a pitch offering first session movement.

Rory Kleinveldt is deadly early on, and for those who have yet to face Mohamed Azharullah he is faster than they think.

So enter 18-year-old Mathew Critchley, in only his second first-class match, to smash 137 in just two sessions at number 8, putting on 162 with Ben Taylor (49) - an eighth-wicket record for Derbyshire against Northants, beating the 88 shared by Kim Barnett and Steve Oldham at Derby in 1983.

Azharullah cleaned them up with the new ball for a five-for and 343 all out for an even game.

As the ball got old the lads did tire, but it was encouraging to see Kleinveldt bowl 26 overs in the day.

There was no Richard Levi this match, and so there was a welcome return for Kyle Coetzer.

Northants, like Derbyshire, wobbled in the morning session.

But Rips knows that if he stuffs his team with batsmen he will get a big partnership at some point, with Willey again obliging with a terrific 100.

I said all along Willey would be our stand out English player this decade, and it is just a thrill to watch him.

If you’re leaving work and it’s a sunny evening and we are batting, it’s well worth a trip down to catch him thrash the ball around.

Josh Cobb edged nearer his first Northants ton with 95 to put on 163 with Willey (105), and it’s pretty entertaining when your number seven, eight and nine average more than 60!

The thing with Willey is he is so rapid thaat the games moves on so quickly and so Northants race towards batting points, their 324 coming off just 61 overs.

I think 50 to 75 sixes in all competitions is not beyond David this year, and like I said, KP will be a distant memory once Willey, Stokes, Hales and Butler get into their stride.

On a drying wicket that got rather slow, Derbyshire made the push for victory with a solid opening partnership, that turned into a big one, 205 no less.

This is why you need an experienced spinner.

You can rotate and rest the seamers and maybe break a partnership or two this way, and you also don’t have an appallingly slow over rate.

David Willey was acting captain for the day after Alex Wakely’s injury, and simply didn’t have those options.

It didn’t help that catches were going down like QPR!

The bowlers certainly played forgotten man Chesney Hughes back into form with his first 100 for two years in that partnership, and there were half-centuries for Slater (94) and Masden (51*).

In fact all the Derbyshire batsmen got runs, and the 407 for five declared was kind of inevitable with the conservative side picked by Ripley.

A total of 427 to win never looked on with the openers gone before the close of the penultimate day as Coetzer and Stephen Peters missed out.

Bar Coetzer, pretty much everyone else in the team has scored a 50 or a century this season, and Rob Keogh was again the star in the middle order with his fifth century in 36 innings for Northants.

We have already scored more hundreds than the whole of last season.

I have never doubted Keogh’s talent alongside Willey and Rob Newton, and he is a guy who can really look after himself in the heat of the battle.

But at 182 for seven, with one or two practising their Twenty20 shots ahead of the trip to Durham, it looked all over.

Wrong.

The players certainly care about this championship campaign, with Cobb digging in with 46 to get to tea with Keogh and Kleinveldt chipping in with a bit of everything to last as long as he did - 35 off 51 balls is probably as defensive and cultured as he gets.

But it was left to the injured captain coming in last to pull off that stunning survival act with 36 not out over 80 minutes, the brilliant Keogh putting on 83 with Cobb, 75 with Kleinveldt and 50 with Wakeley, finishing on 163 not out.

It was very reminiscent of the rearguard at the home Durham match last year.

The victory was on in the last hour, but the team was one big-hitter short after Steven Crook and Willey were out cheaply, but who cares?!

The total of 390 for nine is Northants’ third-highest ever in a fourth innings.

It was brilliant stuff and why we love first-class cricket.

The team is now in third place with three gusty draws and one win, and that works for me!

Now we need to see if the team can thrash these runs in the Twenty20!