VIEW FROM THE BLUES: Steelbacks looking in good shape for Twenty20

IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCES - Mohammad Azharullah
IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCES - Mohammad Azharullah

After David Capel was passed up for the Australia job, it was over to David Ripley for the biggest month of the one-day season, and win number five on the spin against the Worcestershire Royals under the lights on Monday night was a great start.

This win not only set up the Twenty20 programme nicely, but was our most comfortable victory under the Wantage Road lights in a 40-over match since I can remember.

The Steelbacks are completely transformed from the Capel/Andrew Hall axis, and now in contention for silverware.

Yes, Lancashire in the LV= Championship was a disaster, but the team seem to have got over that very quickly.

If the opening home YB40 floodlit was a tough sell on a chilly Tuesday night in May, then last Monday’s was a stinker, just four days before tomorrow night’s opening home Twenty20.

But Sky get what they want, and a decent sized championship crowd trickled in as the middle classes stayed home to watch Wimbledon.

The ECB have been undermining the 40-over format the fans love the most for quite a while now, and are foolishly sniggering now its going.

The move to a domestic 50-over competition to match international cricket won’t increase crowds, and the loss of the 50-over ICC Champions Trophy contradicts their move.

Sunday cricket is great, and it should have been left exactly there.

It’s simple Giles Clarke - championship in the week, a Friday night floodlit slog and a 40-over bash on a Sunday!

Worcester hit first on a slowish central worn pitch in front of the cameras, and their 187 for eight was below par.

The difference in the bowling was Mohammad Azharullah, who pinged in vicious swinging full tosses with genuine pace and his four for 36 was the difference between the teams.

Another good effort from Lee Daggett was a bonus as the tricky task to pick a Twenty20 team closes in on Ripley as the injury list piles up - Steven Crook the latest to be ruled out.

To say the Steelbacks knocked them off with ease is an understatement.

They were never in trouble, with Kyle Coetzer creaming an unbeaten and rapid ton, relishing the kingpin batting role.

The welcome return of Cameron White for his Twenty20 warm-up match added that extra security to the early batting, while David Sales, our fifth highest ever one-day run scorer, was dropped again.

Alex Wakely also enjoyed the TV platform with a stylish 43 runs in that 121, third-wicket match-winning partnership, and looked every inch the class player we know he is.

This is a team that has had the pressure lifted off its shoulders and is ready to pay back the fans, with six years of Capel being too much for anyone.

Whether we can continue this form in the Twenty20 is open to debate, but we should win at least four matches with this confidence from winning - particularly with the signing of Richard Levi - so get down to the County Ground tomorrow night in the sunshine (hopefully!) and let’s back a re-born Steelbacks!

They say that the green bits on a brown potato are rather poisonous, and too much of it is enough to kill you.

A likewise toxic brown and green pitch at Old Trafford last week made Northants feel very ill indeed.

We all knew the championship match here could tip the season on its head, and it did, with 62 all out a shocker and a taste of first division cricket.

But that’s what we won’t be seeing any day soon if we keep crumbling in the big games against the big teams.

It was reminiscent of those doctored Liverpool pitches that awarded the County Championship to Lancashire in 2011 after the bizarre 77-year wait.

But English county teams are hopeless when the ball swings in high humidity, and Glenn Chappell and Kyle Hogg (career best seven for 27 here) already look like they are going to bowl Lancashire to the title again if the summer remains a soggy one.

The pack is closing in fast.

Ripley claims he was tipped off that the pitch would turn, and so put second spinner Graeme White on the bus to Manchester, dropping Matt Spriegel which suggests he doesn’t trust him anymore in the championship.

There was no point wrecking Spriegel’s confidence anymore on a pitch like that before the Twenty20, which was rather ironic as it was a classic worn Twenty20 pitch!

Sales’ continuing failure here proves he can’t deal with the new ball and should be dumped down to six to face the older ball or be dropped.

No half-century in eight championship matches from him is dreadful.

Our first five is feeble without Rob Newton and Stephen Peters against the Duke ball, and a solution has to be found.

Wakely also needs to start scoring at four or drop down to five or six and then a loan player can be brought in,with pressure being put on Cameron White to be our overseas guy.

Pulling James Middlebrook up from seven to open just hurts the trusted middle order.

I thought the boys responded well with the ball to keep up their maximum bowling points - when play was possible over the season - with 26 out of 26 to bowl out the home side for 159.

Azharullah took four for 4-42 and a useful attribute to the championship team, and may yet help us win the two matches from the last six that I think we will need to do stand a chance to go up.

The pitch dried out some on the second day but the wickets kept tumbling.

Northants were blasted out second time around for 168 (Procter 4-39), which was our second lowest score of the season.

The infamous tail managed a whimper with Hall and David Murphy getting 50s, but it was not to be and Lancashire knocked them off at 73 for two for the eight-wicket win.

David Smith was vocal in the press overnight that we had been ambushed with that underprepared pitch, but I’m sure teams felt the same 10 years ago when visiting those Wantage Road turners.

The pitch inspectors said it was fit to play (because it was a Test ground, presumably) and that was that.

I like Smudger’s passion to defend his boys, but he knows the first five are not good enough for the top league and it really was all hot air.