So, after a record breaking Twenty20 run-treat defeat last Friday under the Wantage Road lights, it was a must-win against Derbyshire for the third straight game at home for Northants on Thursday night.
I felt David Ripley was a little bit harsh on his batsmen when blaming them for the Worcestershire Royals defeat in a 400-run game, and for me the bowling and tactics were the real problem.
It seems that certain bowlers are going to bowl the maximum overs no matter what, and that left Graeme White stuck out on the ropes doing nothing, with the team reliant on seamers Rory Klienveldt and Steven Crook.
Using just five bowlers against the Royals was crazy,
Moeen Ali’s brilliant 90 was the best innings at the ground for a while, and dropped catches aside, it just feels like skipper Alex Wakely and vice-captain Willey have differing ideas on how to run the team.
I think if you are going to have Shahid Afridi in your team, then really get him involved and exploit his experience.
Afridi puts a few people on the gate, but prior to Thursday had produced little, with his batting and his bowling perfunctory.
Thursday night was showtime for Willey, smashing 60 off 27 balls and trying out some new wicket-taking poses in front of the Sky cameras for his two for 34!
It was fabulous stuff, and people are coming out to see him play.
His man-of-the-match champagne will taste all the sweeter with the England management watching on.
He wowed a decent sunshine crowd with some brutal sixes for an excellent and comfortable six-wicket win. We love this guy!
Derbyshire’s 166 for seven (Durston 77) first up looked competitive on a pacy pitch, but Wakeley this time mixed up the bowling and kept them below the 180 they needed, although bowling 11 wides was not helpful.
The dry pitches are not helping the likes of Ollie Stone, but Crook (2-23) produced and Kleinveldt was up for the fight with one for 22 from early movement.
Willey only plays one way with the bat and hee set up the victory by throwing willow, body and ego at every ball as Wakeley and Crook (24) took the boys home with a manageable seven-an-over thereafter.
The captain punched the air in relief, his best 35 not out of his career no doubt.
Any other business this week was the crunch LV= Championship game at the County Ground.
After Northants were whipped at Glamorgan a, strong performance against bottom of the table Essex was needed.
Essex captain James Foster chose to bat first on an extremely dry looking pitch, but was deceived by the hidden variable bounce that would see them collapse from 234 for four to 276 all out, only Jessie Ryder making an entertaining score of note with 87 alongside Browne’s solid 56.
A career-high three for 35 for Rob Keogh hints at our new batting star getting used to his all-rounder role.
The one spot on a pitch as arid as the Kalahari that occasionally sent the ball through ankle high at the Wantage Road End never went away as Northants grafted their way to 98 for three before Keogh lost his stump and Stephen Peters was out for 44.
But enter Richard Levi, the big man determined from ball one to get a score to cement his favored middle order spot. This guy was never an opener.
Essex bowled one or two pies later in the day for Levi to gobble up with 20 boundaries, a career-best 168 drawing admiration from a decent crowd to a player who is less at home in the first-class game. He is now!
A total of 444 on a temperamental pitch was a good effort as Crooky and the tail blasted Northants to the full five batting points.
As I say, the problem all season has been the dry Wantage Road square, with the pitches not easy ones for the guys to win on, especially with no penetrative spinner.
I feel the groundsmen are nailed-on favorites to win the coveted ‘Golden Spirit Level Award!’.
Essex moved serenely to 300 for three by the close of day three, and any chance of victory was gone as the ball stopped doing anything at all.
Westley enjoyed the snooker table with 179, and the notorious Ryder helped himself to a century with some beefy swipes,
Ryan Ten Doeschate brought up the 500 with his half-century. Yawn.
Kleinveldt with five for 138 was the only positive, and Northants were left with 40-odd overs to survive.
They wobbled at 56 for three, but Levi guided the team to a safe port on less than choppy waters with 5 not out for the most tedious and pointless of draws.
To quote a famous cricket writer I can’t recall – ‘Match Drawn?? It should be hung and b***dy quartered too!’
Northants have now won just three home championship games in 22.