Buttler masterclass condemns Steelbacks to fourth straight reverse

David Willey picked up the early wicket of Tom Smith at Old Trafford
David Willey picked up the early wicket of Tom Smith at Old Trafford

Northamptonshire Steelbacks are halfway through their Natwest t20 Blast North Group campaign and they are now playing catch-up.

Having won their opening two games and seen the third ruined by Mother Nature, the Steelbacks, following a thumping defeat at Old Trafford to the Lancashire Lightning, have lost four on the bounce with their form rapidly deteriorating.

They’re not out of the chase for a quarter-final place, far from it with seven more games to go, but it will take a dramatic turnaround in fortunes if their title defence isn’t to fall flat on its face.

In Manchester, a typically frantic Jos Buttler innings gave the hosts a substantial target to defend and they did this without having to break much of a sweat.

Having lost the toss, the visitors made a good start to their stint in the field as the dangerous Tom Smith, in David Willey’s first over and the second of the game, skied to mid-off.

That paired Karl Brown with Ashwell Prince and for the next 11 overs they rattled along at a fair lick.

With the ropes set right out and a centrally placed wicket, as with the Yorkshire game at the County Ground last week, there was as much reliance on running as there was on boundary striking and the two of them did it well.

Both adopted a similar method in that they looked to give themselves room to free the arms at every opportunity and anything on a length or short of it played into their hands.

Their partnership had realised 90 - a record for any Lancashire wicket against the Steelbacks in 20-over cricket - by the 13th over when Brown, looking to the stands off James Middlebrook, picked out Rob Keogh at deep midwicket.

This was just what was needed and it got better the very next ball as Prince, who been overtaken by his junior partner after setting off the quicker, sliced to backward point.

There can be a downside in this abbreviated format of the game in that wickets, certainly in the second half of innings, don’t really slow the tempo and in this case all they did was allow the introduction of Buttler to do what he does best.

If there is a better finisher of an innings in world cricket, let alone in this country’s domestic game, then I’d like to see him because this bloke is exceptional.

With his selection of flicks, carves and baseball-esque thumps, Buttler thrashed his way to a 22-ball half century which he brought up by carting Muhammad Azharullah into the Statham End stands.

In collaboration with Steven Croft, Buttler added an unbroken 88 for the fourth wicket from just 46 deliveries and the final outcome was a total of 187-3.

That will have looked fairly daunting before the reply started but after a couple of overs it will have seemed a mountainous task.

The damage was done in Junaid Khan’s opening over, the second as first, Richard Levi took on Prince at extra cover and came up well short after a direct hit and Willey had his furniture rearranged with a yorker next ball.

Two down, nothing on the scoreboard and your premier hitters having an early shower never bodes well and it meant the chances of victory were as good as gone before they had even begun.

There were a handful of decent blows from David Sales and Matt Spriegel, the latter especially revealing a side rarely seen, but the task was too arduous.

Khan returned to finish things off and although the Steelbacks finished 53 runs shy, the actual margin of victory was far greater.