VIEW FROM THE BLUES: Mixed fortunes, but Steelbacks still have momentum

CENTURY CHANCE MISSED - Kyle Coetzer
CENTURY CHANCE MISSED - Kyle Coetzer

Last Friday night’s home game would determine where Twenty20 is right now for the people of Northampton, some 10 years after its conception.

The weather was stunning, the team was winning, there was no football on the telly and the club had a week to promote it all - so now or never for a great crowd.

The good news is the appetite is still there as the punters packed in, even though Andy Murray was on TV, a great night to be had for all with a brilliant victory, the Warwickshire Bears as flat and browned off as the run-packed pitch.

The only negatives would have to be the still busted turnstiles and the comic booze ban, the club, rather cheekily, selling bottles and cans on the ground for four times the price as the ‘offy’.

But, so far, chief executive David Smith has brought back some of the magic to the ground and the team is back in contention for the quarter-finals with that momentum, so well done boss.

The Steelbacks hit first and an intelligent 161 was compiled.

There was no wild slogging from the central pitch to be caught out cheap on the ropes, but again solid partnerships with plenty of boundaries.

My feeling is that if the guys play themselves in and build partnerships they will simply score more runs in the innings.

A rapid tumble of wickets chasing the ropes actually slows the scoring.

Everyone scored and no one got out silly, Richard Levi wielding the bat more like Tony Soprano than Errol Flynn.

A total of 180 was probably on if David Willey came in ahead of others, and Kyle Coetzer with 71 not out will never get a better chance to score a rare Twenty20 century.

The Bears were in it after five overs, but soon out of it after the next five as Lee Daggett and Mohammad Azharullah reduced them to 66 for four.

Matt Spriegel briefly clawed the Bears back into it with a particularly lame over, but Azharullah is just deadly with those in-swinging yorkers and Wakely has the luxury of an almost guaranteed wicket when he calls upon him, as proved to be the case,

He took four for 25 and Bears were 134 all out.

Graeme White, with his extremely naff Young Ones haircut, again delivered with two for 19.

The batting and bowling plans are working well and you can only put this down to Ripley’s new ideas, and James Middlebrook’s dad, who apparently scouted Azharullah up north - his son ironically dropped because of the Pakistanis success.

Cider and Beer!

Next up and a trip to another kind of bear pit, that of Taunton, the scene of our horrendous quarter-final defeat in 2010.

When you play here, you know if you don’t get at least the par score batting first you are going to lose, the Sabres simply having too much artillery on their compact ground, as proved the case in front of a big crowd.

Steelbacks’ 151 for seven was short, with only Ben Duckett’s 10 runs off the last two balls making the score competitive on a fresh greenish strip.

David Willey again came in too late, and his 47 off 36 balls suggests he may get a move up the order this Sunday.

Somerset fancy themselves on any strip to score and they did, knocking them off with relative ease for the six-wicket win, Aviro Peterson creaming 64 not out off 35 balls, what Levi will hopefully be doing soon.

Alex Wakely over juggled his bowling (maybe to avoid using Spriegel who seems to be playing because of a contract clause) and Azharullah got his first big over thrashing; only Willey with two for 19 able to exploit a seaming pitch.

It was the toughest fixture in the group and so onwards and upwards.

Pitch Perfect?

After the ambush at Old Trafford last month, our chief exec was forced to apologise for his comments on the batting surface, backing his boys to the hilt as an ex player, which was admirable.

The pitch for this week’s return at Northampton was the exact opposite, dead and grassy, Northants arrogantly inserted under brilliant sunshine.

After the County’s makeshift opening partnership prospered in the morning session (James Middlebrook 51), Lancashire’s superior attack bowled very well thereafter, taking pretty much all their half chances to restrict the homeside to 310 all out.

David Sales as stand in captain failed again, making just 18 and running poor Middlebrook out with a brainless single.

Only a scratchy 90 from Cameron White matched the opener’s half-century efforts, but it was the Australian’s first first-class knock since back in March so a gutsy effort.

Why Coetzer wasn’t stand i- captain is confusing.

Surely it’s time for Kettleborough or Christian Davis to come in and for Sales to move on?

You can feel the team really sagging now without their star bowlers and batters, with mid-season always the peak for injuries.

The team laboured all day as Lancashire compiled hard earned runs on pitch designed for Northants not to lose on.

Simon Katich’s hundred was professional but you could see the bowling options were limited,

Middlebrook and an almost medium-pace Daggett getting nothing from the dusty top.

My deadline passed half-way through the match, and so I can only hope we shook hands on a sweaty draw today (Thursday) and the battle goes on.

We did the right thing to play a straight bat pitch and if we did escape with a draw then this weakened team will rise again.

If we lost then we are in big trouble and adrift without Trent Copeland, just Middelbrook to save the day on those dry tuners.

Not a thrilling thought.