VIEW FROM THE BLUES: What a difference a year makes as Steelbacks surrender T20 crown

T20 STRUGGLE - Steelbacks captain Kyle Coetzer
T20 STRUGGLE - Steelbacks captain Kyle Coetzer

So what a difference a year makes as the Steelbacks surrendered their Twenty20 Trophy with only four wins from 13 matches.

They were so average this time around they let Worcestershire beat them twice, a team that have only ever made the quarter-final once in 13 years.

This was not clever.

Yes, we were short of the classy Cameron White and Alex Wakely’s intelligent leadership and likewise runs, but the Steelbacks have let down the big crowds that came out to see the champions this year, and it was a wasted opportunity to really build the membership.

Our heroics had even picked up a celebrity supporter, a one Judith Chalmers spotted at the ground.

All this meant Wednesday night’s home glamour tie with Notts fell rather flat after the Steelbacks’ home flop against the Rapids last Friday night.

Once Kyle Coetzer opted to let the Outlaws bat first, any minuscule run-rate equation that would let the Steelbacks take it to the last game at Durham with a chance disappeared.

There was only ever going to be one winner on Wednesday anyway, with Notts progressing to the quarter-final with relative ease.

Now the first thing you do when you play the Worcester at one-day cricket in a must-win match under the lights is not give them a used central pitch with a tinge of green that the slower bowlers love.

If you take the pace off the ball against the Steelbacks they really suffer.

Although Worcester were without their best two tweakers last Friday night in Ajmal and Moeen Ali, this is their thing, and why they got an overseas spinner in.

They have perfected it.

Most teams have worked that out and given the Royals the exact opposite pitches when they entertain them. But not Northants.

So it’s fair to say Worcester were rather pleased to turn up and find a New Road pitch at Northampton.

For some reason, head coach David Ripley changed things away from the entertaining straw brown dry flat pitches we had done so well on over the last year at home with our top end batting, and then relied on our weakened bowling attack to close it out.

Bad idea.

The crowd simply didn’t get up and behind the team due to the lack of fours and sixes and the trophy was gone.

A 140 pitch reaped 160 for Worcester, who also know how to bat on these strips.

The likes of Matt Spriegel and James Middlebrook are not top-class tweakers.

And even though Spriegel did well for once, he only got two overs on that pitch. And on what planet is Andrew Hall a worse player than Spriegel in Twenty20? Where is Hall???

Coetzer’s batting has been as ineffective as his leadership this year.

The reply wasn’t great, going from 42-0 to a feeble 131 all out, again it all being down to either Richard Levi or David Willey winning it from batting one and two.

Daryl Mitchell’s five for 28 was the best ever bowling by a Worcestershire player in Twenty20, beating Mo Ali’s 5-34 (also against the Steelbacks at Northampton last year).

To hammer home how well they bowl against us, four of their top 10 individual bowling performances have been against the Steelbacks.

The likes of Ben Duckett are never going to clear the ropes from these central pitches against slow bowlers, and they end up nurdling it around wasting boundary balls.

Levi has also been very average this year and really should have been more of the senior bat in the team when the injuries struck.

In many ways this 31-run defeat was the most disappointing of all in what has been a dreadful season.

We really should have won this match.

Worcester’s bowling attack would have been mashed on a flat one.

Back to Wednesday night and after yet another synchronized urban dance troupe warmed up the crowds, the Nottinghamshire Outlaws needed the win in front of the Sky cameras at Wantage Road to qualify.

And so they did, a powerful batting style complemented by clever well-drilled bowlers winning out by 22 runs.

Rikki Wessels reminded us what we have been missing with a man-of-the-match top score of 64, putting on 100 with Samit Patel (42), the chubby spinner earning a high-five with Wendell for his batting and bowling.

That set up a decent 174 for six on a fair pitch.

The Outlaws are a team of all shapes and sizes, Luke Fletcher the biggest lump on a cricket field since Colin Milburn - with 5ft 3in captain James Taylor looking like a kid asking dad for sweets when instructing the big bowler.

Willey’s dreadful 0-49 off 3 overs was the fifth worst bowling performance by a Northants player in this format, and probably the worst off three overs.

His ploy to get noticed on Sky TV one last time by the selectors and pundits backfired somewhat, but he has still earned himself a place in the England Lions squad later this summer, and good luck to him.

The Steelbacks’ reply was somewhat predictable and we were soon resigned to handing back that ugly T20 trophy.

The County never really in it, and only an impressive 67 from Coetzer and a breezy 37 from Steven Crook kept the sizeable crowd’s occasional attention.

The Notts seamers know how to defend totals, and this was their sixth straight victory.

The only good news for the Steelbacks is they may have a half decent 50 over side here and could cruise to a quarter-final place with other teams in our group distracted by the grater prizes of the Twenty20 and County Championship promotion.