VIEW FROM THE BLUES: Azharullah the star again as Steelbacks maintain quarter-final bid

A huge win at Derbyshire in the Twenty20 last Sunday afternoon now means the Steelbacks will be in the mix come quarter-final qualification going into big local derby with Leicestershire this weekend.


Northants won’t stroll it as four of their recent games have gone to the last ball, and with injuries piling up we may not carry on winning those last-ball games.

There’s no doubt you want Muhammed Azharullah bowling that over though.

However old, he really is he is getting better and better, and he was again the man at Derbyshire.

Forget the ‘Boom Boom’ merchandise - it’s time for ‘Azha Some of That’ T-Shirts!

If you can pencil in a win before the Twenty20 season starts, Derbyshire was top of the list as they have made just one quarter-final in 12 years, which is comfortably the worse record in the competition.

The Steelbacks on the other hand are impressive in Twenty20, and perform way above their resources, securing no less than six quarter-finals in 10 seasons.

Azharullah feels Northants have momentum like we did in 2013, but I still feel we are a bowler short and it’s between Worcestershire, us and Notts to get the fourth spot.

We are not going to get a home tie.

Like last weekend’s Silverstone Grand Prix, the teams had to change their tyres one or two times on a worn track, with wets late on for both at a soggy Chesterfield.

The Steelbacks were consistent if not quick on their intermediates and accumulated 155 for six.

At half-race distance at 85 without loss, team Steelbacks came into the pits and put the wrong set on as Levi (42) and Cobb (48) perished quickly to tumble down to 106 for six with five laps to go, before Steven Crook and Rob Keogh put on the slicks and smacked it around with a 30-ball 50 partnership.

Cobb was a smart all-round signing by David Smith and David Ripley, and is beginning to drop into that Cameron White number two role with some good scores and the odd wicket.

I think Northants are concerned that David Willey might be tempted to leave in the next two seasons, and Cobb will get his vice-captain role.

Derbyshire looked to be strolling to the D/L score of 144 off 18 overs after a long rain break in the interval.

There were good early lap times in their wet tyres, with Durston driving them on.

But they are bottom of the North table for a reason and simply don’t have enough confidence. With 5 overs remaining, Durston got out for 60 and they lost their way, closing on 140 for five after failing to smash the last ball for four.

Rory Kleinveldt and Azha are really getting that ball in the blockhole at the end and are extremely effective now.

Andrew Hall in his prime was great at that death stuff, and Azha has picked up the mantle so much that group opposition are beginning to be scared of him.

It was good to see Graeme White take two for 27 off his four overs, and the bowlers stepping up without Willey and the overseas player that I think we really need to get over the line.

Last year the team fell away trying to build big totals with many players going missing, but this bespoke and tiny Twenty20 squad seems more of a unit now the dead branches have been shaken out of the tree.

It is a lean and mean team, on a lean and mean budget.

Averages wise, Levi has been great and more settled at number four in the championship and more thoughtful in the Twenty20.

I felt he was throwing one too many haymakers in the shorter game last season, but seems more mature now, preferring to jab more singles and doubles and only punish the medium to bad balls.

He is going through the gears this campaign and is a critical player.

Ben Duckett should have started the first game of the Twenty20 and if he had would now be the top run scorer alongside Cobb.

Both of these guys can occupy the crease and bat the overs if given the chance.

That leaves skipper Alex Wakely, who I feel remains a championship player playing championship shots in the slog.

With an all too familiar first-class average this season he needs a big second half of the 2015 campaign.

Crooky, for me, is having his best Twenty20 season on record, and is way up there with a 55 average in the rankings.

I think he knows he is more important this year with no overseas and expect his performances to get better and better.