Everything about the Royal London Cup suits Northants.
Whereas we ignored the longer one-day competition in recent seasons (very much the third priority for most counties), we couldn’t this time, with the now 50-over tournament a chance for underperforming counties, players and coaches alike to redeem themselves.
The Steelbacks have nothing else to play for and that gives you a head start as other teams are distracted by Twenty20 and promotion and relegation in the championship.
Lancashire are favorites in our group but already have two defeats with just six games to go.
It always infuriated me we didn’t really go for the 40-over competition in the Kolpak era, and so I hope Kyle Coetzer grabs his chance here and we get that quarter-final.
We can do it and have the right kind of players to achieve that.
If Matt Spriegel is going to perform, it’s in this format, as are Ben Duckett and Coetzer, guys that have been found out a little by some by high class Div 1 championship bowling, and are not really suited to the chaos of Twenty20.
So, first up were the Gloucestershire Gladiators at Cheltenham, a festival ground that favours the big hitters.
The home team’s 240 was not quite enough and you always back the chasing side on flat pitches to get less than five an over, Klinger just missing the ton with 98.
David Willey’s best bowling of the season with four for 33 is another pointer to the Steelbacks starting well in this competition.
Guys like Steven Crook and Olly Stone will have to improve as key wicket takers if we are to make the last eight though.
I’m always surprised Coetzer doesn’t bowl himself or Spriegel for variation when the seam is getting crunched.
Again, Spriegel was put on this earth for 50 over cricket. Use him.
There was a good chase with the bat and no real problems for the Steelbacks, all the guys up with the scoring rate and so the target easily achieved.
There was good powerplay work by Richard Levi (43), and Adam Rossington top-scored with 88 to set up the win.
Bringing Rossington in on loan has been head coach David Ripley’s best moment this season by far.
Those Mike Tyson shoulders and Rossington’s willingness to take on the bowlers and score quickly may see him recalled pretty quickly by Middlesex, which would be a real shame.
Crook (36) and Spriegel (32) kept it all ticking along and Willey sealing the win with 26 not out, tuning up nicely for the upcoming England Lions matches and an England winter tour.
It may be only the Steelbacks’ fifth win of the season, but by far the most important.
So the Worcestershire Rapids were next up at Milton Keynes as Northants have tied themselves to three more games at Campbell Park over the coming seasons.
It works for the Saints to grow the fan base there, but not so much the Steelbacks, hence no Twenty20 there.
The London Cup is effectively the school holiday cup now and kids going free, which is what it’s all about, although there was not the biggest of crowds in the Buckinghamshire ground.
There is no doubt Campbell Park is okay for kids to be kids in, but it’s not so ideal for older people.
Seats are at a premium, and only a stepped grass bank offers an elevated view.
The crowd wasn’t brilliant, and not that many members made the trip from Northampton.
I think it’s fair to say Campbell Park is not really suited to paying spectator games, but it still draws more fans paying on the gate than a floodlight 50-over at Wantage Road, next Tuesday night’s game is going to be a tough sell.
The Rapids hit first and 274 was above par on the bouncy strip, with 20-year-old Tom Fell stroking 72 and Whiteley planting 52 around the sparse crowd.
The Worcestershire tail recovered well from 84-4 off 25 overs.
Crooky bowled well (3-42) there were three more decent scalps for Willey in his battle for fitness, but apart from that nothing much, the final 25 overs conceding 190.
The Steelbacks were never in it with the bat, with 27 for four dribbling to 186 all out.
There were too many impatient loose shots drawn by the bowlers on the smallish ground, Mitchell again the man with the ball taking four for 17 for the 88-run Rapids win.
It’s never easy to chase 270 and the Steelbacks will now need a rare List A win under the County Ground lights to correct this mess-up.
Duckett’s 49 was his highest List A score and reminds me of those old school cricketers in the days when you didn’t have boundary ropes and you worked your runs from the big empty spaces.
I can’t possibly end this week’s article without mentioning big David Sales hanging up the spikes.
He was the youngest player to score a Sunday League 50 at just 16-years-old - for Surrey - and scored 0 and 210 on his first-class debut for Northants, at 18-years-old the then youngest English player to score a double on debut and still our youngest capped Northants player.
He still holds the record for the youngest Englishman to score a triple century.
Jumble was a lovely bat to watch and is set firmly in the Top 10 first-class century makers for Northants with 27 tons, and the 15th highest for half-centuries with 89, and a likewise position with 13,459 first-class runs in the all time list.
He is the only Northants batsmen to score six scores of more than 200, and those big bucket hands in the slips leave him 10th in the catching stats.
Sales should have played for England and certainly lived and played the game his way.
He will know full well he could have done more in the game if he really wanted to.
He should have moved to Nottinghamshire to push his England hopes, and maybe a fitter Salesy for Northants would have turned those top 10s into top fives.