Northants go second after victory over Worcestershire

It was a tale of two powerplays as Northamptonshire eased past Worcestershire, with Richard Gleeson’s three-wicket burst with the ball, before Richard Levi and Adam Rossington virtually ended the chase inside six overs with the bat.

Gleeson had a breakthrough campiagn last year, but hadn’t taken a wicket in this year’s Blast. Tonight removed Joe Clarke, Ben Cox and John Hastings, all bowled, as the visitors stumbled to 35-3 from six, Gleeson finishing with superb 3-12 from his four overs.

Brett D’Oliveira’s half century saw the Rapids recover to 158, a total that looked competitive on a slightly two paced Wantage Road wicket, but Levi and Rossington racked up a remarkable 78 in the powerplay.

Although the Steelbacks slightly wobbled after, skipper Alex Wakely and Rob Keogh showed cool heads with an unbroken stand of 66, Wakely finishing 46 not out as he led his side to a fourth win from seven.

The defending Champions go second in what is a tight North group, as the competition reaches the halfway point. The top six are separated by just two points but, for Worcs it already looks an uphill battle to quailfy, unable to back up a first win of the campaign on Wednesday night.

In his first year in county cricket Gleeson, a late developer at 29, consistently took early wickets, with real pace. Second season syndrome has seem him unable to repeat those feats so far, until this night, although he said afterwards the lack of wickets hadn’t been a concern.

“It seemed to come out quite nicely tonight, little breeze over my shoulder, down the hill – so I’m pretty pleased,” he said. “Great batting performance as well, especially after that powerplay

“I’m normally not too fused about chasing the wickets, I prefer my economy to be low. I did a bit of work with [coach] Phil Rowe this afternoon. We spoke about Rhythm, run in a bit slower, and I felt like I was getting it through.

“I was surprised they got that many after the start they had, but we settled our nerves very quickly with Rosso and Rich with that start.

“Hopefully keep getting a few wins under our belt and go from there, keep putting in performances like that, really clinical good performances.”

After Gleeson found the inside edge off Clarke in the third over, Cox fell the same way in the fifth, before Hastings was yorked first ball as Worcestershire stuttered for much of the first half of their innings, 66-4 at halfway.

Mitch Santner led a slight recovery, hitting three sixes as he shared a stand of 47 with D’Oliveira but he hit Keogh to long-off. The in form Ross Whiteley following for just a single, as he couldn’t back up his six sixes in an over, this time holing out to Wakely on the midwicket boundary.

When Kleinveldt removed Joe Leach caught behind first ball, Kleinveldt taking 3-25, the Rapids were 111-7 with four to go and in danger of not batting out their 20. But D’Oliveria, with the help of Ed Barnard, who showed plenty of invention with a 9 ball cameo of 17, took 47 off the final four as Worcs reached a larger than expected total.

Levi and Rossington would put the Rapids effort in context, however, as the raced out the box. Levi had a life when he pulled Patrick Brown to Shantry at fine-leg, only for the fielder to go over the rope once taking the catch.

The South African inflicted more misery on Shantry, hitting him for a six and three consecutive fours, before Rossington joined in the fun with some lusty straight hitting.

He hit five fours and two sixes before Worcs staged a mini fightback after the powerplay, Rossington sweeping Leach to long-on, before Ben Duckett was caught and bowled by Santner for a duck.

When Levi slapped Hastings to point, the ball having just been dropped at short third man, the hosts had lost three wickets for 11 runs. But such was the power of the start, the required rate remained less than a run a ball, 59 needed off 60 balls.

Wakely instantly eased any nerves, pulling Darryl Mitchell for four and six in the 11th and, from that point, it was a mere formality as the pair cruised the target with little difficult. Keogh was the support act with 22, whilst Wakely hit a further six, before the winning boundary came in the 18th over. The skipper was just four short of 50, but still saw his side back in the mix for quarterfinal qualification.

 

T20 Blast Preview: Northants Steelbacks v Worcestershire Rapids

It’s all to play for at the top of the North group, as the pool stage reaches the half-way point. The only game on Thursday evening sees Northants host Worcestershire at Wantage Road, with the defending Champions knowing a win will take them back to second spot.

The Steelbacks dropped to sixth following defeat on D/L to Nottinghamshire last Saturday, having been second 24 hours earlier, but with the four sides above them all on eight points to Northants’ seven, Yorkshire leading the way two clear, victory will see them leap ahead of the top in what is a game in hand.

Worcestershire’s campaign got off to a dreadful start, with four defeats and a washout from their opening five games leaving the Rapids looking likely to get cut adrift – alongside Durham at the bottom – only to get off the mark against Notts last night. If they can make it two wins in as many days, they will suddenly be looking upwards.

For Northants, it is a return to home ground following three successive away fixtures and with the last home clash with Yorkshire abandoned without a ball bowled, Alex Wakely’s men haven’t stepped foot on Wantage Road since the opening night of the Blast almost three weeks ago.

With five of their last eight games at home, including three of the next four in the space of eight days, it is set to be a crucial period for the Steelbacks, backing up tonight by traveling to Derbyshire tomorrow.

Wakely does have selection issues, especially in the spin department, with Rob Keogh the only recognised spinner, and even he has only bowled 12 t20 overs in his career. He is likely to be backed up by a debutant in Tom Sole or Saif Zaib, and coming in the same week as Ross Whiteley hit six sixes’ off Yorkshire slow left armer Karl Carver, the Rapids could look to exploit that weakness, but themselves face the difficulty of coming straight from being in action last night.

Key man

Rob Keogh has spent the majority of his Northants career as a bit part player in t20, but has suddenly become a crucial member of the side, both with the bat, where he has been something of a finisher so far with three important cameos, and with the ball. Despite being used as first choice spinner in the Championship, Keogh had only bowled eight overs in 38 t20 appearances, but the injury to Josh Cobb at Leicester forced him into action and he responded with 1-24 from four and, with Graeme White injured and Tabriz Shamsi back in South Africa, Keogh will go into tonight as the main spinner.

It’s not often that someone hitting 118 off 55 balls gets upstaged by someone on the losing side, but that’s exactly what Ross Whiteley managed to do on Sunday as he became the first Englishman to hit six sixes in an over in top level cricket. It was followed by 42 off 16 against Notts meaning his last three innings have totalled 146 from 70 balls, including 15 sixes. Often a player who blows hot and cold, Worcestershire will need Whiteley to continue to smoke it if they are to get back into contention and perhaps a move up the order is in need, with seven seemingly low for someone in such hitting form.

Team news

Richard Levi returned for last weekend’s double header, but Northants face something of a crisis in the spin bowling department. With Sri Lankan Seekkuage Prasanna ruled out of the whole competition, whilst replacement Tabriz Shamsi has had to return to South Africa for an ‘A’ series, the last thing David Ripley needed was Graeme White going down with a shoulder injury. Even part time spinner Josh Cobb is out, leaving Rob Keogh as the only experience, with Tom Sole and Saif Zaib spin options if either is given a debut, whilst Nathan Buck could come in if a seamer is preferred.

Northants squad: Nathan Buck, Josh Cobb, Steven Crook, Ben Duckett, Richard Gleeson, Rob Keogh, Adam Rossington, Ben Sanderson, Richard Levi, Rory Kleinveldt, Rob Newton, Tom Sole, Alex Wakely, Saif Zaib

Josh Tongue is the only addition to the Worcestershire squad that won at Trent Bridge last night, the youngster having returned from England U19 duty. George Rhodes is the other addition to the 11 who beat Notts, but an unchanged team is likely.

Worcestershire squad: Daryl Mitchell, Joe Clarke, Brett D’Oliveira, Ben Cox, John Hastings, Mitchell Santner, Ross Whiteley, Joe Leach, Ed Barnard, Jack Shantry, Patrick Brown, George Rhodes, Josh Tongue

Weather and conditions

Thursday evening is set fair for Northampton, with no rain forecast and, whilst it will remain overcast, temperatures will be pleasant in the high teens. White-ball surfaces have generally been good at Wantage Road with Derbyshire chasing 180 with ease in the only match so far, so expect more runs on show.

Northamptonshire Steelbacks v Worcestershire Rapids
Date: Thursday July 27
Time: 6:30pm
Venue: Wantage Road
Odds: Northants 8/11, Worcestershire 11/10

 

Outlaws sneak over the line despite Levi onslaught

Richard Levi blasted back into action with an explosive 43 ball 88, but it was Nottinghamshire who took the points at Trent Bridge after the rain allowed just enough time for a result in the hosts’ favour.

The Outlaws were 52-0 from 5.1 overs in reply to Levi’s inspired target of 196 when the forecast rain arrived, the hosts 12 runs ahead of the par score of 40 having snuck in enough deliverers to ensure a result by the narrowest of margins.

It could have been different had Rob Newton clung on to a tough catch off Hales six balls before the players left the field, the ball racing to the point boundary. It was one of five boundaries the England opener hit in his unbeaten 30* that proved match winning, alongside Rikki Wessels.

Whilst the home faithful will have left celebrating a win, they were denied what was looking like being an excellent contest as Notts started well, chasing Northants’ 195-7 on another Trent Bridge deck designed for six hitting, the same pitch that saw almost 450 runs on Friday night.

With scores on 227-3 and 222-5, Northants’ effort was perhaps under par, especially given the brutal nature of Levi’s assault. His side couldn’t fully capitalise on his knock, Ben Duckett the only other batsmen to make any real impression.

“Obviously the weather’s had an impact today. I’m happy to get a couple of runs but disappointed with the result,” Levi said, having been named man of the match.

“They bowled quite well to drag it back and taking wickets slows down the rate. We didn’t get to quite where we wanted, but if you’d said we’d get to 195 at the beginning of the day we’d have bitten your arm off.

“We were looking for 210-220 and maybe we should have got there.”

The South African was playing only his second game after missing six weeks following a concussion sustained in the Championship defeat to Worcestershire. He made up for lost time, in the six hitting stakes at least, clearing the boundary eight times.

The shorter boundary on the new stand side was his target, peppering the structure consistently. Jake Ball went for back to back maximums in the third over, a sign of what was to come.

Duckett briefly joined the show, with four boundaries in his 16 ball 28. The second wicket added 60 in five overs to leave Northants well poised on 109-1 at halfway, Levi clubbing Ish Sodhi for a huge leg side six to go to a 26 ball half century.

Luke Wood bowled Duckett, with Rory Kleinveldt following next ball, as Notts momentarily stemmed the tide. But Levi was back in full stride, as the same bowler was twice pulled over the ropes, and even when he did hole out to long-on Wood had overstepped.

The no-ball would only cost a further six, however. Levi lifting Sodhi was maximum number eight over cover, before his downfall came attempting to hit over the longer Fox Road side of the ground and, instead, finding the hands of Hales in the deep.

He departed with Northants 150-4 from 14, but the innings rather stuttered from there on in. Alex Wakely and Steven Crook both hit sixes, but they would be the only boundaries as regular wickets fell, Ben Sanderson giving the Steelbacks a boost by sending the final ball over long on. But 45 from the final six overs had to be a disappointment.

In the end it would prove costly, as Hales and Wessels got the chase off to a flyer, after only two from Sanderson’s opener. The next four all went for double figures, Hales lifting Kleinveldt for a straight six.

With five overs approaching the rain closed in. The Outlaws pair took no chances, knowing they were comfortably clear of par, and one ball past the cut off for a result, Tabriz Shamsi’s delivery proved the last.

 

T20 Blast Preview: Northamptonshire Steelbacks v Yorkshire Vikings

Two of last year’s final four meet at Wantage Road in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Tuesday night, with Northants’ looking for revenge against the only side they failed to beat over the course of their title run last summer.

The two met twice in eight days towards the end of the group stages, the Vikings twice triumphing as they secured their place in the knock-out stages, only to be beaten by Durham at Edgbaston, before Northants went on to beat the Jets and lift the crown.

It provided a frustrating end to a campaign that showed plenty of promise for the White Rose after a few barren years where their back-to-back Championship winning side couldn’t convert to the shortest format.

This season the T20 will provide a welcome relief from a stuttering four day campaign, losing two of their last three, in the absence of their England trio in the middle-order.

The arrival of Shaun Marsh, joining fellow Aussie Peter Handscombe in the middle order of the limited overs side, as well as David Willey taking his place at number three, provides a much more formidable looking batting line up, and so it proved as they racked up 227-5 against Nottinghamshire on the opening night at Headingley.

It was surprising therefore when they failed to chase 166 against Derbyshire at Chesterfield on Saturday, the Falcons having beaten Northants on Friday to be the early pace setters in the North group.

Northants bounced back from that defeat by winning at Durham, leaving both teams with a win and a defeat and whilst it is still early days in the 14 match group stage, with both sides targeting a place in the quarter-finals, neither will want a second defeat at this stage.

A lackluster display with the ball saw Derybshire never pressured as they chased 180, however Tabriz Shamsi has proved a fine short term signing, playing his final match before Seekkuge Prasanna arrives for the remainder of the competition.

Both Adam Lyth and Ben Duckett have started the competition with back to back half centuries, the pair leading the run scoring charts two rounds in

Key men

Richard Gleeson burst onto the scene in the Blast last year, the only regular bowler to go at less than a run a ball, whilst his early breakthroughs were key to Northants success. Hitting 90mph, he was perhaps a surprise to sides and it remains to be seen if he can have the same success as last year, but with Yorkshire’s powerful top order, Alex Wakely will look to Gleeson for crucial early strikes.

David Willey received a hostile reception on the return to his home town club last year, even having beer chucked over him on the boundary. The England all-rounder will be relishing the big occasion though and be more than up for this clash, as shown with his only two half centuries in 2016 coming against Northants at Headingley.

Team news

Richard Levi returns to the Northants squad having not played since suffering concussion after a serious blow against Worcestershire at the end of May although Muhammed Azharullah has been ruled out of the competition with a shoulder injury. Nathan Buck provides an option if Northants opt to make a change in the bowling attack.

Northants squad: Nathan Buck, Josh Cobb, Steven Crook, Ben Duckett, Richard Gleeson, Rob Keogh, Adam Rossington, Tabriz Shamsi, Ben Sanderson, Richard Levi, Rory Kleinveldt, Rob Newton, Graeme White, Alex Wakely.

It is a case of same again for Yorkshire who name an unchanged squad, Ben Coad and Matthew Fisher added to the 11 that have played in both their opening games.

Yorkshire squad: Tim Bresnan (C), Ben Coad, Matthew Fisher, Peter Handscomb (wkt), Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Jack Leaning, Adam Lyth, Shaun Marsh, Steven Patterson, Azeem Rafiq, Adil Rashid, Matthew Waite, David Willey.

Weather and conditions

Sadly the weather looks like it could play a major part on Tuesday night, with light rain turning to rain as the evening goes on in Northampton, with a washout a major risk. If the rain stays away, the match is likley to be played on the same surface that Derbyshire cruised a chase of 180 on Friday, with more runs expected if they can get on.

Date: Tuesday July 11
Time: 6:30pm
Venue: Wantage Road
Odds: Northants 6/5, Yorkshire 4/6

Duckett guides Northants to first T20 victory

Ben Duckett continued his return to form with a mature 72, to guide Northamptonshire to their first win of the defence of the Natwest T20 Blast, chasing 162 to beat Durham and end their Chester-le-Street hoodoo.

In contrast to their recent success, the Steelbacks had lost their last four in the North East but Duckett superbly timed the chase, sharing a fourth wicket stand of 80 with skipper Alex Wakely, having ended well to restrict Durham to 162-7, Jack Burnham with a maiden T20 half century

Both fell, leaving 27 required from the final three overs. Rob Keogh’s cameo, an unbeaten 20 off 13 balls, saw them over the line with four balls to spare, Keogh hitting Usman Arshad for four just like he did to seal the Blast title at Edgbaston last August.

It was a second successive half century for Duckett to start the competition, having been moved up to open in T20 for the first time in absence of Richard Levi, and whilst he is still only 22, Duckett is become an experienced member of the side. His 48th T20 appearance showed that with a perfectly paced innings.

The scoops, or Duckscoops, and reverse sweeps were there, but played at the right moments, mixed in with being content to rotate the strike when required. Wakely provided a calm head at the other end, playing the support act as he does so well.

“It was important to get over the line,” he said. “That was par, just over par slightly.

“I thought we bowled extremely well at the end to get it back to that. I don’t think we bowled too well in the middle, but at the half way point we were fairly confident.

“I spoke to Wakers and knew it was crucial I was there near the end. It got a bit nervy, but I was confident we were always getting over the line, that was a great little knock [from Keogh].

“I’ve really enjoyed opening. I’ve said I really want to bat there and all I can do is score runs when I get the chance, but if I do go back to four when Rich [Levi] comes back it’s only going to strengthen our side.

“Believe it or not, I have matured slightly over the last couple of years. I’ve felt pretty good all year it’s just nice in the last couple of weeks to get some runs, but for me if I can keep contributing to wins I’ll be very happy.”

Both sides came into the contest on the back of opening night home defeats, Northants far from their best with the ball. Durham looked to be well placed on 126-3 from 15 overs, with Jack Burnham and Paul Collingwood well set, having added 53 from five overs.

The veteran Collingwood hit two sixes but, when he drove Tabriaz Shamsi to cover for 38, Durham lost 4-22, limping to 161-7. Burnham hit a further two boundaries as he finished on a maiden half century, 53, Rory Kleinveldt with 3-28 as the Jets stuttered towards the end.

Despite sweeping Chris Rushworth for six, Duckett was fairly subdued after losing Adam Rossington, and 96 runs were still needed when Josh Cobb holed out trying to pull over the long boundary, a trap Wakely would fall into as well.

But that was only after he provided the perfect support for Duckett in their stand, ensuring the rate never climbed and when 11 and 13 came from the 15th and 16th over respectively, the Steelbacks looked home and hosed with 30 needed from four overs.

Arshad produced a fine 17th, building pressure that forced a reverse sweep from Duckett that looped to Collingwood at point and, when Wakely fell in the next, Durham sniffed their chance.

Just like he did as Northants stuttered over the line in the final, Keogh proved the calm head, with a pair of boundaries to get the Champions campaign up and running. For Durham it already looks an uphill battle to reach the knock-out stages, two defeats meaning they remain on -4 points.

Duckett added: “We weren’t at our best [on Friday] but in this tournament we know it’s about getting it right at the right time.

“You never want to lose, and you don’t want to lose the first two, but we know if you get on a roll you can win a few on the bounce, we back ourselves to be in that top half of the table.”

Derbyshire shock Blast Champions at Wantage Road

The last time Luis Reece left Northampton, it was to spend two days in hospital. That was last month, but he rose from the sickbed to strike an unbeaten 74, as Derbyshire shocked defending champions Northamptonshire in the opening night of the T20 Blast.

It was the perfect start for the new captain and coach combination of Gary Wilson and John Wright, the first specialist T20 coach in county cricket, and whilst it might not quite signal a white-ball revolution for the Falcons, knocking off the Champions is a fine start for a side that’s solitary quarter final appearance came all the way back in 2005.

And they did it in some style. Reece’s 74 from number three was the backbone of the innings as the visitors cruised a chase of 180, the third highest in their T20 history, after Ben Duckett had top scored with 69 for Northants.

Reece, together with first Billy Godleman and then skipper Wilson paced the chase perfectly, constantly finding a boundary in almost every over. Northants were unable to take wickets or restrict the scoring, Wilson finishing things off in style with 28 off 15.

Breathing difficulties saw Reece play no part after day of the Championship match between the two sides at Wantage Road last month, but this proved a much happier evening, a fifth career appearance in the shortest form, bringing a maiden half century.

“Much better memories than the last time we came to this ground, but the wicket was an outstanding wicket.” He told DEC.

“We said at the halfway point 180 was par and we were more than confident we could knock it off, and it was nice to put my hand up and score a few.

“It was hard to shut the batters down, especially with a rapid outfield. We said 180 was par and at one stage did we think “we can’t do this”.

“We’ve got a fantastic group of players. There’s a lot of talent in that dressing room and tonight we showed it; it was great to get off with a win.

“Hopefully tonight is something of a beginning for me. I’m looking forward to the rest of the T20.

“I know the boys we’re going to go from strength to strength. Hopefully, we’re going to get through the qualifying stage.”

The Falcons face a quick turnaround with Yorkshire arriving at Chesterfield fresh off a big victory against Nottinghamshire tonight and, whilst Reece said beating the champions lays down a marker, one game doesn’t make a summer and they need to keep improving if they are to reach that elusive last eight spot.

“Absolutely they’re [Northants] a quality side but it’s only one game.” Reece added, “Its a long campaign. We’ve got to keep making sure we’re ready for each opposition, if we do that we’ll be somewhere near.

“It’s a nice marker, chasing 180 down, but the boys have worked incredibly hard. I’ve been itching to be involved.

“Its something we’re going to have to keep building on, and come tomorrow we’re looking to improve on the performance we put in tonight.”

For Northants, though, it was a disappointing start to the defence of their crown, losing to Derybshire for the first time since 2011. It was a display in the field that never quite got going after an innings that flew, then stuttered before a late rally.

After Adam Rossington’s early run out, Duckett and Cobb added 93 for the second wicket to leave them well placed to push 200, but 100-1 in the 12th became 135-5 and only Steven Crook’s 17 ball unbeaten 34 pushed the Steelbacks up to 179-7.

Duckett was opening in T20 for the first time and, on the back of centuries in consecutive Championship games, struck ten boundaries but lost his way once Cobb, who struck Imram Tahir for a huge six in his 38, departed.

When Richard Gleeson removed Ben Salter for eight, the Steelbacks appeared well set, but 35-1 from five was the only time they got on top, Reece and Godleman taking 18 from the final over of the powerplay, and from there they never looked backed.

Only two of the completed 19 overs failed to include a boundary, and even the second of those went for nine, as they ensured the run-rate never climbed above 10 an over. Wayne Madsen was excellent on the sweep and reverse sweep of the spinners.

He fell for 37 with 47 still required, but Wilson steered his team home to ensure there wouldn’t be any late twists. A four and six off Kleinveldt in the penultimate over took his side to the brink, a fine way to mark a captaincy debut that, on this showing, could lead to brighter times for Derybshire.

T20 Blast Preview: Northamptonshire v Derbyshire

Northamptonshire begin the defence of their NatWest T20 Blast crown at home to Derbyshire with the unusual feeling of expectation hanging over Wantage Road, for the Steelbacks can play the underdog tag no more.

Alex Wakely’s men have enjoyed playing up to it in recent years, none more so than at Edgbaston last August, when Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Durham arrived at Finals Day with sides packed with internationals, but it was little old Northants who walked away with the title, for the second time in four years.

Indeed, the final was the third they have contested in that period, only missing out in 2014, having been runners up in 2015. So whilst they may not be the most fashionable county, they are now a force to be reckoned with in the shortest format.

The squad has remained almost unchanged, with Nathan Buck replacing Olly Stone, who missed much of the title campaign injured. Seekkuage Prasanna also returns next week, with South African spinner Thabriz Shamshi filling in for the opening three games.

That familiarity means a side who know their roles, and one that is full of match winners. A trademark of last year was the ability to always have someone step up and play the crucial role when needed, rather than relying on two or three star names.

The Falcons meanwhile will arrive at Wantage Road, looking to cause an upset and show that their winter talk of making an impact in T20 can be put into action. One of only two sides never to have qualified for Finals Day, Derbyshire’s only solitary appearance in the knock-out stages came all the way back in 2005.

However, in a county first, John Wright has been appointed as a specialist T20 coach, with winter signing Gary Wilson taking the reigns for the competition, and it remains to be seen if the new approach can pay dividends. With the trip to Northants followed by a local clash with Yorkshire at Chesterfield on Saturday, they certainly face a baptism of fire and one that could set the tone for the season.

Key men

Ben Duckett was simply the man of 2016, his summer in the sun including a remarkable 83 as Northants beat Notts in the semi-final. He also impressed in three ODIs for England before a difficult spell in the test arena saw him drop down the pecking order. 2017 hasn’t started the best, but two centuries in successive Championship games show a return to form, and he will no doubt produce his full compliment of reverse sweeps and Duckscoops.

Imran Tahir made his Derbyshire debut this week, following his white ball commitments with South Africa, and immediately took 5-110 in the first innings of the Championship clash with Durham. The leg spinner has become one of the highest ranked T20 bowlers in the world, and alongside Matt Henry will provide an added dimension to the Falcons attack. He also has good memories of Wantage Road, taking 3-13 to spin Nottinghamshire to victory 12 month ago.

Team news

Northants will be without Muhammed Azharullah after he suffered a tendon injury in the Championship last week. Richard Levi is also a doubt, having suffered a concussion against Worcestershire at the end of May, his return to a Second XI T20 match was aborted after just eight balls. With Seekkuage Prasanna on Sri Lanka duty until this weekend, Tabraiz Shamsi has arrived as cover for the opening three games.

Northants squad: TBA

Gary Wilson will lead Derbyshire for the first time as he takes the reigns for the T20 campaign, but will be without Shiv Thakor after the all-rounder was suspended whilst under police investigation over indecent exposure allegations.

Derbyshire squad: TBA

Weather and conditions

The scorching conditions of the last couple of weeks, unfortunately, won’t continuing for the start of the blast. Showers are forecast for Northampton during the afternoon, but hopefully will clear to allow a game to take place.

With a fresh pitch set to be used for the opening game, expect a high scoring encounter, as has been the norm for Wantage Road white-ball surfaces over the past couple of years.

Date: Friday July 7
Venue: Wantage Road, Northampton
Time: 6:30pm
Odds: Northants 4/7, Derbyshire 11/8

 

Victory under lights for hosts in Wantage Road thriller

Northamptonshire snatched victory by the narrowest of margins, just two runs, in a pink ball thriller against Leicestershire under the lights at Wantage Road.

Hunting down a County Championship record chase of 394, Matt Pillans’ maiden first class fifty looked to be taking the Foxes over the line when Dieter Klein was dropped by keeper Ben Duckett with 7 required, the latest it a catalogue of Northants drops.

But four runs later Rory Kleinveldt found Pillans’ leading edge and the ball somehow looped to point, where ex-Leicestershire man Josh Cobb took a diving catch to spark scenes of jubilation. It was Northants latest thrilling victory this season.

It was harsh on Pillans, though, and Colin Ackermann’s 105 put his side in prime position for a Pillans cameo, the on-loan Surrey man marking his Leicestershire debut with an enterprising innings after a day that had swung backwards and forwards throughout.

Ninety-five runs were still required when Pillans strolled in at number nine, but eight fours and a six later he had a 41-ball half century, and although Ackerman and Clint McKay fell with 37 and 26 required respectively, he guided his side to the brink of a famous victory, only to be denied in dramatic fashion.

It was the latest in a line of thrilling Championship matches for Northants this season. Alex Wakely’s men are the only side in the country yet to draw a fixture, and this two run win came after a pair of penultimate ball successful run chases at Derby and Durham.

“I thought it was slipping away at the end there,” head coach David Ripley admitted. “They were playing sensibly and that lad [Pillans] had hit the ball well and was edging his way to victory.

“At that moment you think “we’ll look back at the drop catch”; should we have batted an extra five or six overs [before declaring on the third evening]?

“But it’s the year of the thriller for Northants; it’s the fourth particularly tight game we’ve had out of seven and it just feels really good.

“I feel our cricket over four days edged it, even though that was a great chase. It made for a real entertaining four day cricket match, which we don’t see much off these days but that was certainly one of them.”

Resuming 44-0, having survived a testing 16 overs with the new ball under the lights on day three, it appeared that Northants were on course for a comfortable victory when openers Paul Horton and Arun Harinath were removed inside the first half hour, Sanderson and Gleeson with the early strikes.

However, Northants’ catching looked set to cost them as a series of chances went down. Mark Cosgrove was the main beneficiary, dropped at slip by Alex Wakely and a caught and bowled that Kleinveldt should have hung onto.

It allowed the Leicestershire skipper to share a partnership of 127 with Ackermann, who was also dropped at slip by Kleinveldt on 42, the stand the backbone of Leicestershire’s chase, going well into the second session before Cosgrove rather gifted his wicket, caught at mid-on.

Ned Eckersley added a further 58 but when he slapped Azharullah to cover and Neil Dexter hit a return catch to Kleinveldt, the task appeared beyond the Foxes, going into the final session still needing 117 with five wickets remaining.

Gleeson’s two in two balls, Lewis Hill caught behind before Rob Sayer completed a pair LBW first up, appeared to have sealed it, but Pillans had other ideas – only to be cruelly stopped in his tracks.

The win sees Northants remain in fourth but only 20 points behind second placed Worcestershire, with a game in hand. They have a crunch clash with Kent next week, the final match before the start of their T20 title defence.

“I believed it from the start,” Ripley continued, “The first meeting we had we were very positive.

“The schedule helps us with a small squad and there was belief we could win cricket matches.

“We finished the season like a train last year, so we didn’t have to build belief.

“There’s some good teams in the division. We wanted to be up there going into the last five games and, all being well, we probably will be.”

Despite the dramatic conclusion under the lights, Ripley’s views were mixed on the pink ball experiment, with no upturn in crowds at Wantage Road, though admittedly the weather didn’t help.

“I think it looked a little bit flat on occasions, on other times it did too much. It reminded me a bit of uncovered pitches.

“I felt a little bit for Leicester on the first day. We batted in quite pleasant conditions, then they had to go out [under the lights] and it hooped all over the place.

“So that doesn’t seem fair to me, but I found it hard to see sometimes and we didn’t really cram them in.

“I’m not sure but I’m sure we’ll give it another go as one round isn’t enough to make a proper judgement, but those that followed this game over four days will think it was brilliant.”

 

Pink panther Duckett steals the limelight though Northants suffer dusk wobble

Early afternoon at Wantage Road and the talk was all about the pink ball as the historic first round of Championship day-night fixtures got underway, but Ben Duckett stole the show, cracking his first century of the season inside the first session.

This was county cricket’s step into the unknown this week and whilst Northants v Leicestershire might not have provided the headline fixture of the round, it provided an intriguing first day.

The opening session saw Duckett crack 20 boundaries on his way to a better than a run a ball cetnury, and ended with Leicestershire deploying two nightwatchmen as the hosts’ bowlers found plenty of assistance as the lights took over.

It all meant that it was Northants, fresh off four victories in their opening six games, ended the day in the ascendancy as despite collapse from 211-3 to 261 all out they made the most of the twilight conditions to reduce the visitors to 65-4.

A bumper, by Wantage Road standards, crowd turned up to see the action, but numbers peaked at around 5pm before thinning out throughout the duration of the final floodlight session, a trend seemingly repeated across the country.

Duckett was the only man on Northants staff with experience of the pink ball, having played for the MCC in in the Champion County match, and said English contitions gave a different expereince.

“It was very different to here to playing in Abu Daubi, that twilight period and the darkness changes a lot over there, after the twilight it was pitch black which is very difficult to pick up,” he said.

“So it wasn’t quite as hard but it’s much different batting at 2pm than it is at 9:30pm.

“In a way [the collapse] might have worked for us as it’s very tough batting under the lights, we didn’t properly cash in but, with them at 60-4, if we start well we’ll be right in it.

“It’s exciting, it’s different, we got more of a crowd in so people came to watch so I think we’ll see a few more of these games.”

Duckett was county cricket’s man of 2016, winning almost as many accolades as hundreds he’d hit throughout the campaign, but after a challenging winter and stuttering campaign so far, the pink ball brought out the Duckett that burst onto the scene in such spectacular fashion.

Seventeen boundaries were hit by the 22-year-old inside the first hour alone, 12 of which on the way to a half century off 41 balls, as the pink nut disseapred to all corners of Wantage Road, Duckett going on to bring up his century in the final over before lunch, the 4pm interval still officially called so, to visable relief.

“It took a little bit longer than last year but felt good to get there,” he said. “I think everyone would have seen how much this one meant.

“It’s been frustrating, I felt pretty good the last few months and got 50s and got out, we’ve played on some interesting wickets which hasn’t helped and sometimes 60-70s been a good score, but when I got over the line before lunch it was a massive relief.”

Duckett’s innings was part of a Jekyll and Hyde performance from Northants with the bat, as Max Holden played second fiddle with a composed but equally impressive knock from the teenager.

The Middlesex loanee lacked support, Rob Keogh’s 25 the only other score of note, as Northants at once stage lost four wickets in 11 balls for one run, Dieter Klein taking 6-80 as the last seven wickets fell for 50.

However being bowled out shortly into the final session gave Northants 25 overs with the new pink ball as the lights gradually started taking over, with conditions definitely favoring the bowlers much more than earlier in the day.

Paul Horton and Arun Harinath fell before the score reached 14, and when Mark Cosgrove fell, Leicester opted for not just one nightwatchman, but when Rob Sayer was bowled by Azharullah with five overs left, a second in Clint McKay walked to the middle.

He, along with Colin Ackerman survived under the end, but only just as final ball of the day saw the former edge Richard Gleeson to Chesney Hughes, who had earlier been dismissed first ball, only to see the chance shelled, as the curtain came down on the first day of county cricket’s step into the unknown.

RLODC Preview: Leicestershire v Northants

Leicestershire’s Royal London One-Day Cup campaign started with two wins from three, but two defeats since have left their hopes of a knockout place hanging by a thread as they host already eliminated Northamptonshire at Grace Road on Friday night.

Northants came into the white ball season on the back of a positive start in the Championship, and as T20 Champions and 50 over quarter-finalists last year, but Wednesday’s 164 run defeat at home to Yorkshire was their fourth loss in six, with only one win and Alex Wakely’s sides’ 50 over season will end next Tuesday.

Leicestershire, meanwhile, with three games remaining still retain hope, albeit a slim one, of a top three place and a spot in the play-off, and the Foxes will likely need to win all three.

If they are to do so they will need to regain the batting form of the first three games that saw totals of 311-7, 319 (in a losing cause chasing 362) and 363-7 but since then, scores of 211 and 217 have easily been chased down by Durham and Nottinghamshire respectively.

Northants have had a campaign of missed opportunities. In games against Worcestershire, Lancashire and Yorkshire they have bowled themselves into a strong position by the midway point of the first innings, only to let it slip, and despite chasing a record score of 325 to beat Lancashire in their only win, have been unable to repeat that feat.

Key men

Ben Duckett has had a cooler start to 2017 than his summer in the sun last year and, having missed three games carrying the drinks for England, he will be keen to make an impression in what could be his last two 50 over games of the season, and will continue at the top of the order.

Cameron Delport signalled his danger in a second XI game against Northants before the One-Day Cup got underway, striking 150 in a 50 over contest, and after two games where top order failures have led to under par totals, Delport and fellow opener Mark Pettini will be key.

Team news

Rob Sayers is ruled out of the Leicestershire squad having injured a hand against Nottinghamshire at the weekend. Colin Ackermann returns, whilst Ben Raine, Neil Dexter and Richard Jones are all still absent.

Leicestershire squad: Clink McKay, Colin Akermann, Aadil Ali, Zak Chappell, Mark Cosgrove, Cameron Delport, Ned Eckersley, George Griffiths, Lewis Hill, Dieter Klein, Callum Parkinson, Mark Pettini, Jamie Sykes, Tom Wells.

With Northants already eliminated, skipper Alex Wakely and Josh Cobb have both been rested, whilst Richard Gleeson also won’t make the trip as his knee injury continues to be managed. Max Holden, Tom Sole and Saif Zaib are included in a 14 man squad.

Northants squad: Muhammed Azharullha, Nathan Buck, Steven Crook, Ben Duckett, Richard Gleeson, Max Holden, Rory Kleinveldt, Richard Levi, Adam Rossington, Rob Newton, Ben Sanderson, Tom Sole, Graeme White, Saif Zaib.

Weather and conditions

Showers are forecast throughout Friday evening, so it could lead to a frustrating night at Grace Road, whilst with cloud cover and a breeze it will also feel on the chilly side with temperatures in the early teens.

Date: Friday May 13
Time: 2:30pm
Venue: Fisher County Ground, Leicester
Umpires: Michael Baldwin, Alex Wharf
Odds: Leicestershire 4/5, Northamptonshire 1/1