VIEW FROM THE BLUES: Levi comes good as Steelbacks bandwagon rolls on in Twenty20

BIG HITTING - Richard Levi
BIG HITTING - Richard Levi
Share this article

So, after back-to-back eight-wicket defeats by the far superior Lancashire in the LV= championship, and the expected defeat at Taunton in the Twenty20, it was back to Wantage Road last Sunday to begin a busy run of uninterrupted Twenty20, with a similarly long list of injuries attempting to blunt our chances.

Another brilliant crowd rocked up in spectacular weather with the sky as deep blue as the Steelbacks’ new strip, and a thrilling home victory was delivered to send the fans home happy.

Australia’s defeat in the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge, and the news that Trent Copeland will be returning trebling the joy.

I love the new strip, but you can’t read the names. They are blurry like those number plates whose chav drivers don’t want to pay speeding fines. Not that Lee Daggett will get a ticket!

There have been a couple of head-scratching cricket things on my mind going into this week, and the first is why are there no Scouse cricketers?

Have you ever heard a Liverpool accent in the sport?

And, secondly, why exactly was Matt Spriegel wearing sparkly silver shoes in the previous championship match?

I thought Steven Crook was our representative in Strictly Chron Dancing? Did I miss something here? Has he scored 500 runs at 50 and taken 40 wickets?

Even Usain Bolt wouldn’t wear those when he turns out for exhibition cricket games in Jamaica!

The Spriegel misfire was our biggest problem going deeper into the Twenty20 as those pitches harden and the sun beats down.

With Graeme White back in Nottingham and James Middlebrook struggling a little, I feared the one-day campaign maybe about to bite that increasing dust.

Spriegel bowled just four overs in the championship game against Lancashire, and so is clearly not trusted in that strike role.

He was embarrassingly stuck in at short leg under the helmet when captain David Sales had a spare wicketkeeper on the field against Lancashire.

Known as ‘The Finisher’ at his previous club Surrey, he is far from the finished item here.

I’m sure David Ripley is looking around for another loan spinner, but we will need them yesterday if The Finisher doesn’t step up.

Crooky and Copeland can rescue the championship campaign in August/September but the Twenty20 campaign looks vulnerable.

The Glamorgan Dragons hit first, and their 152 was below par.

It seemed to be getting away from Alex Wakely in the early powerplay, but those underperforming slowies pulled it around on a sawdust central pitch, Spriegel taking two for 22 - the gold shoes on order!

But it was that man Mohammad Azharullah who kept that score down with four for 14 to take out the danger men, the timid Dragons showing him the maker’s name.

It will be tough to hold on to this guy, our best chance along with Cameron White to make it to the quarter-finals.

I felt confident we would get the runs as Aussie White is in his element right now and being played where he needs to be at number three.

He simply controlled the innings, putting on 53 with Levi and a match winning record 92, third-wicket partnership with captain Wakely (52*).

Admittedly, Levi had looked scratchy in his opening appearances, but we all knew we were nearing that big explosive innings and just moving through the gears.

White timed it beautifully, Wakely the more cautious as the Australian belted the big hits to keep up with the rate with that 68.

It was all rather nervy for the last-ball victory, but exactly what we paid for from the big Aussie.

It was the Steelbacks’ biggest run-chase victory at home for seven years in the Twenty20.

David Capel was watching on with many ex Northants players from the earlier Kevin Curran memorial match, and finally glimpsed what he had been missing from White, the two shaking hands when they met.

So on to Cheltenham on Tuesday and the Gloucestershire Gladiators, the weakest team in our division, with the 2.30pm start an odd one.

The first ever Twenty20 festival match at Cheltenham last weekend had seen the home side skittled on a poor pitch for 96 and so not a good toss to win.

The Northants groundsman had been forced into this corner last year to use haggard pitches to level games up with low scores against better teams, but it simply destroys batsmen’s confidence.

Paul Senior promised 160 pitches at Wantage Road in 2013 and we got them, and that is one big reason why we are winning and people are coming back to the games.

The punters want to see runs, boundaries and wins. Uncomplicated cricket.

This pitch at Cheltenham wasn’t a stinker, Levi finally delivering what we expected him to do when the sun came out and why David Smith and Ripley went in for him with hard cash - the brutal hundred.

It was the second only for the Steelbacks, a run short of fellow Steelbok Lance Klusener’s 111, scored in 2007.

Levi is an ugly player to watch with big nicks and clubbed shots, but closing on 206for three (our fifth highest score) it didn’t matter how he got those unbeaten 19 boundaries, his extremely powerful straight hitting joyously scattering the crowd, Crook also joining in the barrage.

Willey killed of any chance of a decent chase getting going with quick three wickets in a career-best four for 32.

Alex Gidman (49) and then Richard Cockbain (60) dished out some late tap to keep it interesting, a broken window or two on the College Ground turret evidence of the ferocity.

The Steelbacks had got away with it, bowling wise.

Their score of 189 for six was comfortably the Gladiators’ highest score against Northants in the Twenty20, and so there are still spin and seam issues.

But what has made me most happy is the way we are winning games from all positions.

Hopefully we went top on Wednesday night at the NCG by stuffing a struggling Somerset, and there will be more of the same for the Bears on Saturday.