The Steel is back as Northants continue to charge up the YB40 table, seeing off Kent in a 500-run thriller at Tunbridge Wells on Sunday.
Okay, hands up, I didn’t think the County had much interest in the 40, but they have proved me wrong.
Not only did they defend a score, but did it with bowlers that you wouldn’t say were made for the discipline.
I really do think the Saints and Cobblers heroics have helped to rekindle the Steelbacks’ respect for one-day cricket.
The crowds around the country are also enjoying the final season of 40 and, dare I say it, a statement that they prefer leisurely sun kissed Sunday afternoons with time for an ice cream and a cool box to the boring low-scoring Twenty20 games that play out in any weather to avoid refunds.
I would not be surprised if some counties see the YB40 having bigger crowds than the T20 this season.
The Steelbacks hit first at an expectant Tunbridge Wells with that healthy 263 for six, a sign they mean business, dominated by Rob Newton’s 86 and Alex Wakely’s maiden one-day hundred off just 73 balls, their 159 run third-wicket partnership the highest for any Northants wicket against Kent in a limited overs match.
If the captain showed some of this tempo in first-class cricket then who knows what he could achieve?
The Kent reply never quite kept up with the rate after an excellent start as they crumbled away from 132 for one to 234 all out, the Steelbacks again applying an effective squeeze in the later overs.
Most of the Northants bowlers got as much tap as the Kent lads on a decent pitch with short boundaries, as Trent Copeland’s now familiar discipline and calm at the end steadied the nerves with four for 46, removing the final threat of Blake and Cole.
I was surprised Mohammad Azzurullah was risked here as he looks a four-day bowler and so not economic (which proved the case), while it was great to see Lee Daggett again post the best figures of the day with two for 28 from his eight overs.
Dags gets stick in the crowd for that boundary ball he always seems to bowl, but he is intent on bowling himself out of the seconds here, as he has been an integral part of our last two excellent victories.
A win at Arundel on Sunday week would put us in the top two.
As revered as Christopher Martin-Jenkins was in the game, he was a boring commentator, because he was too respectful of cricket’s rules and traditions and so simply said what he saw on the pitch in that objective and correct public school manner.
And some times county captains can also be as rigid to the spirit of the game, and so there is little flexibility to entertain with that need to play pure cricket because tradition dictates.
This is what happened in last week’s LVC bore draw with Hampshire.
I don’t disagree with David Ripley playing on for batting points to kill a game badly affected by rain, but that preordained negativity in this situation certainly doesn’t help to bring the punters in.
The first priority was to squeeze the final juice out of the soon-to-depart Copeland, who is unlikely to stay longer over his agreed term.
That is a huge blow to the team’s chances of promotion so a win from the next two home games would be welcome.
I don’t think we will win many without him, especially as there is no sign of a replacement.
Whereas Andrew Hall lost most of his tosses, Stephen Peters and Wakley continue to win most of theirs, and critically so.
Hampshire were inserted on a damp murky second morning after day one was washed out.
New boy Azharullah was in for Steven Crook and the Pakistani/Brit bowled at a fair lick second change.
Given the right strip he could be fun, but this one was far too slow, and yet again ideal for that man Copeland to take more wickets with his disciplined line and length.
Hampshire’s 149 for five meant it was about even at the close.
The following day felt like 1952 all over again and Freddie Brown’s uncovered wickets, with two an over being scored on a pudding of a pitch.
It looked like the recent rain had risen up the water table and decided the fate of the match, with Dawson’s 76 off 293 balls an example of just how slow it was.
Hampshire’s 206 all out from 88 overs secured Northants’ 18th straight bowling point, which is a new record for the division.
With Northants closing on 159 for six at an equally tortoise-like pace, this game was going nowhere fast.
The good news was Kyle Coetzer, filling Peters’ shoes neatly with a stoic fifty to stop any collapse.
The final day saw that 159 for six closing on 425 for nine for a stale draw, the pitch coming to life so more shots allowed square of the wicket.
Hall secured his second straight ton, sharing his 130 runs for a record eighth and ninth-wicket partnership against Hampshire with Copeland (63) and David Murphy (81) respectively.
If you’re not captain, you have to play for your pace.
By the time the joke bowlers were on so was the club’s all-time ninth wicket record of 156, Murphy unaware of that and slogging out to very occasional bowler Jimmy Adams for his PB, respecting the record in his own way.
Michael Carberry had some fun with his West Indies greats impressions with the ball.
Whether that day was worth £10 admission fee was debatable.
Some say county cricket gets a bad name on days like this, but the result was never on as the pitch was never going to yield many more wickets, Ripley batting on to try and keep his bowlers fresh for the challenge ahead.
That was a shrewd move that was rewarded with that big win at Tunbridge Wells the following day.
One or two grumbled that we should have had a dart at them at a hundred on and the 110 overs up, but not to be.
We are still top with a chance to beat Worcester and Leicestershire over the next two weeks the priority now.