VIEW FROM THE BLUES: Steelbacks closing in on last-eight qualification

RUN MACHINE - Richard LeviRUN MACHINE - Richard Levi
RUN MACHINE - Richard Levi
If Durham, Warwickshire and Northants win tonight then the Steelbacks are through to the NatWest T20 Blast quarter-finals with two matches to spare.

A home tie is a bigger ask.

That would involve getting past Brendon McCullum and defending champions Birmingham Bears at Edgbaston on Wednesday, and then beating domestic 50 over champions Durham at Wantage Road next Friday night.

If the team don’t manage that home date, a trip to Kent or Sussex beckons.

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The groundsmen are confident and have already begun cutting pitches for both a home Twenty20 Q/F, and a 50-over semi-final, but I’ll take qualification.

I didn’t even think we would get this far after last year and a tight squad has done exceptionally well so far.

After the ugly two-day defeat at Cheltenham to Gloucestershire last week that signalled the end of any sort of promotion push from division two, it’s exactly the opposite in the Twenty20, with a powerful D/L destruction of a hapless under-strength Leicestershire last Sunday putting the Steelbacks into that box seat going into tonight’s match with the Yorkshire Vikings.

If you have not yet been to watch the lads, then tonight is the night.

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The beer is expensive, but the atmosphere is great and more relaxed than it used be.

It’s the place to be Friday night for both families, the lads and the ladies too.

In a rain-reduced 10 over-game after a brilliant effort by the groundsmen to get the game on after two evil downpours (that produced a delightful and unscheduled wet T-shirt competition for the rather excellent cheerleaders rushing off the pitch for the nearest hairdryer), the Foxes were chased down by a pack as ferocious as the Pytchley Hounds.

The visitors were in the game after posting a useful 110 for four from their 10, Elliot blasting 50 off 26 balls, putting on 76 with the appropriately named Benjamin Raine.

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But in front of a big Sunday crowd in warm late sunshine the total proved no problem for the super confident home side, as they brought the 50 up in 3.2 overs and the 100 in just 7.5 for the impressive nine wickets win.

Richard Levi wields the blade like Thor’s hammer, and clubbed 50 in 19 balls with 13 powerful boundaries, so it was job done after 8.3 overs.

Levi’s 67 not out came off 28 balls and took just 37 minutes after he put on 50 with Josh Cobb (28) and then 65 with the now Ben Duckett (24no).

This team is packed full of big hitters and maybe the groundsmen are right and that home Q/F now looks possible, but I still think rain and bigger budgets could swamp us at the last for that glamour home time.

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The ever-improving Duckett is becoming an important part of the team and flying up the order, but has yet to sign a new deal

You may not be aware, but the lads are not that well paid in proefessional sporting terms, and the starting salary for a full professional on a statutory two year deal is £25k per season.

The days of capping players to boost their salary are over, and with tight county budgets the players union (the PCA) helps the lads get better deals.

Rob Keogh is in a similar situation to Newton.

I also hear Rory Kleinveldt (if not picked for South Africa) could move to become a Kolpak next season, so that may help to free up some money.

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The problem for Northants, even with the four players going we think will go in September, the club is still going to be minus a few hundred thousand on the budget.

Rumours are circulating on the ground that David Smith did not go amicably, and that would tally with him not being allowed admission to the ground the other week.

But you have to speculate to accumulate, and he certainly did that.