Ballance stars as Yorkshire put one foot in the finals

Yorkshire may have had their England ODI quintet back on duty but it was captain Gary Ballance who stole the show once again, striking a magnificent unbeaten 152 as his side placed one step into the knockout stages of the Royal London One-Day Cup, dismantling Northants by 164 runs at Wantage Road.

After Adam Lyth, Joe Root and Peter Handscomb all went for single figures, Johnny Bairstow soon followed as Yorkshire were reduced to 73-4, but Ballance continued his remarkable start to the summer and with support from first Matthew Waite and then Adil Rashid, dragged his side up to 300-6.

Ben Coad and David Willey then took four wickets inside eight balls as Northants slipped to 11-4 in the third over, from which there was no way back. The host’s hopes of making the knock-out stages ended with a fourth defeat out of six.

For Yorkshire, meanwhile, a fifth win from six puts them three points clear at the top, in pole position for the direct qualification into a Headingley semi-final.

The headline team news was the return of the England contingent as Root, Bairstow and Rashid were joined by David Willey and Liam Plunkett, all of whom featured in both ODIs against Ireland.

However, Ballance has been Yorkshire’s man of the season so far, with the County captaincy seemingly having taken his game to new heights. He has made three centuries in as many Championship games, followed by two half centuries to kick-start the One-Day Cup.

The start of his innings was classical Ballance, nudges and nurdles, but became the perfectly paced one-day innings, reaching three figures in 97 balls and needing just 19 more to go to 150, showing the more expansive side of his game and adding three sixes to 19 fours.

It could have been different had Adam Rossington not fluffed a simple stumping when Matthew Waite was on only seven. That would have left Yorkshire 89-5 in the 24th over, but instead it was another 14 overs before another chance came.

By that stage Waite had moved to a career best 43, the fifth wicket stand worth 105 before he was eventually trapped LBW sweeping Graeme White. The Northants spinner was the pick of the hosts bowlers with 2-37. He should have had three but Richard Gleeson badly misjudged a catch in the deep early in Rashid’s innings. Northants continued to be sloppy in the field, captain Alex Wakely dropping a further chance off Rashid.

Just like he had with Bairstow, in the second ODI against Ireland, Rashid proved the perfect partner as he and Ballance added 113 in the final ten overs to reach 300. Ballance made a seventh one-day century in the 44th before racing past his previous career best of 139, Rashid contributing 41 before being run out off the final ball.

Northants’ chase of 325 against Lancashire last Friday was the only previous time they’d chased 300, and they never looked like making it a second occurrence as Coad and Willey struck.

After Coad removed Cobb with a fine delivery, that was edged behind in the second over, Richard Levi pulled his second ball straight to deep square leg. When Ben Duckett edged the first delivery of Willey’s next over onto the stumps and Rob Newton was LBW three balls later, Northants hopes of repeating last season’s quarter-final place were all but over.

Adam Rossington hit a breezy 30 in adding 50 with Wakely, but he then gloved a Plunkett bouncer and Wakely was soon bowled sweeping Adil Rashid.

Rory Kleinveldt and Graeme White ensured the Steelbacks didn’t go down without a fight, the latter hitting four sixes in a career best 40 from 26 balls, but Yorkshire’s spin twins wrapped up victory with more than 20 overs to spare.

RLODC Preview: Northamptonshire v Yorkshire

Yorkshire will welcome back their international stars as they look for the win that will virtually seal qualification to the Royal London One-Day Cup knockout phase, while nothing but a win will do for their hosts Northamptonshire.

Four wins from five have taken the White Rose to the top of the North group, the only defeat coming at Worcestershire on Friday, with those two sides looking likely to battle it out for the direct place in the semi-final that comes with top spot.

As England look to get as much 50-over cricket into the Champions trophy line up, the likes of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Adil Rashid have immediately returned to county duty leaving a 13-man squad featuring eight internationals, including Peter Handscomb, who’s 140 on Sunday followed Bairstow’s 174 against Durham last Wednesday.

For Northants meanwhile, the competition has proved something of a struggle after finishing top of the North Group last year. Sunday’s defeat at Durham leaves them with only one win, and a tie, from their five games.

Anything but victory tomorrow will end their chances of making the top three, and even if Alex Wakeley’s men win all three of their remaining fixtures, nine points may still not be enough to qualify.

They do welcome back Ben Duckett from England drinks carrying duty, but will be ruing Sunday’s 19-run defeat, as well as the tie against Worcester, as three points that got away. Northants will be hoping Rory Kleinveldt can return to provide much needed balance to the side.

Key Men

Richard Levi came into the English summer having been named player of the tournament in South Africa’s domestic One-Day Competition. He has carried that white-ball form with 242 runs in four innings, including a century at Derby and two further half centuries. If Northants are to match the international experience of Yorkshire’s batting line-up, they will likely need Levi to fire.

There was much frustration around Headingley when Jonny Bairstow was forced to miss the opening two round of Championship matches, but the England keeper batsman has been in blistering form over the last week. His quick-fire 72 for England against Ireland following a remarkable 174 off just 113 balls for his county and Bairstow will be hungry to keep piling on the runs as he looks to force his way into the starting 11 for the Champions trophy.

Team News

Northants add the returning Ben Duckett to a 15-man squad, but could rejig their batting line-up after Rob Newton replaced Duckett in the opening spot and hit a century against Worcestershire. Rory Kleinveldt is again named in the squad as he awaits a return from full fitness, whilst Nathan Buck could also come in if Northants continue to rotate their seamers as they have done so far.

Northants Squad: Muhammed Azharullah, Nathan Buck, Josh Cobb, Steven Crook, Ben Duckett, Richard Gleeson, Max Holden, Rory Kleinveldt, Richard Levi, Adam Rossington, Rob Newton, Ben Sanderson, Alex Wakely, Graeme White, Saif Zaib

Yorkshire welcome back Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Adil Rashid, Liam Plunkett and David Willey, all five having played for England in the ODI’s against Ireland. With them returning they have taken the opportunity to rest both Tim Bresnan and Matthew Fisher.

Yorkshire Squad: Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Coad, Matthew Fisher, Peter Handscomb, Jack Leaning, Adam Lyth, Liam Plunkett, Azeem Rafiq, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Matthew Waite, David Willey

Weather and Conditions

Wantage Road has seen two bitterly cold evenings so far in the One-Day Cup so Northants supporters will be relieved to see temperatures set to reach an almost balmy 15 degrees on Wednesday evening, with pitches tending to provide high scoring games white-ball games in recent years.

Date: May 10th 2017

Time: 2:30pm

Venue: Wantage Road, Northampton

Umpires: Neil Bainton, Rob Evans

Odds: Northants 13/8, Yorkshire 1/2

Maiden Newton ton lights up Northants chase in dramatic Worcestershire tie

Northants and Worcestershire played out a dramatic tie at Wantage Road, as Rob Newton’s maiden Royal London One-Day Cup century wasn’t quite enough to get his side over the victory line.

With 14 needed off the last over, Adam Rossington took three fours off the first five balls, but with two needed off Joe Leach’s last delivery, he couldn’t get bat on ball, running a bye to leave the scores level on 277.

The hosts will feel that this was one that got away however, as Ben Cox’s 81, also a career best, saw Worcestershire recover from 118-5 and 199-8 to reach 277-9, a last wicket stand of 27 between Ed Barnard, who hit 42 at number 10, and Jack Shantry looking crucial.

Newton’s century had put Northants in a strong position as he shared a fourth wicket stand of 106 with captain Alex Wakely, but his dismissal on 107 proved the turning point, as Wakely was run out for 52 two overs later and Steven Crook edged his first delivery behind.

Rossington’s 63 off 45 balls kept the chase alive but despite a scoop and sweep for four off the fourth and fifth balls of the final over his effort would remain in vain.

For Newton it was the first time he had opened in white-ball cricket in four years since hitting his previous highest score, retiring hurt on 88 at Kent back in 2013, taking his opportunity with Ben Duckett away on England duty.

Although delighted to have taken his chance, it was a bittersweet feeling with the overriding emotion of disappointing, with Northants still looking for a first win in the competition.

“The feeling is one of disappointment, we feel that’s a game we’ve outplayed them for 85 overs out of the 100 and couple of little patches have let us down in a big way,” he said.

“Ourselves 190-odd for 3, myself holing out, a run out and a first baller and suddenly you go from driving seat to chasing the game, Rosso (Rossington) played a beuat of an innings just a shame he couldn’t get us over the line.

“I haven’t had a lot of opportunities in the top of the order for a number of years now, Obviously we missed Ducky (Duckett) and we’re all delighted for him, but meant I got a go opening, really pleased to take the chance when it was offered.

“I’ve played a lot of games in recent years and batted 6 or 7 and you try and do the best you can do, so it did feel like a big opportunity and great to score a hundred.

“I enjoy doing it, opening the batting’s great, you get the field up but obviously comes with responsibility, if we go out and win two games at the weekend, I go carry on my good form I’d feel very aggrieved not to keep doing it.”

Newton’s innings looked to have the chase in good stead, after a wobble following the Powerplay when a first wicket stand of 55 ended when Josh Cobb dragged on with Richard Levi and Rob Keogh falling for four and ten respectively.

But together with Wakely they got the chase back on track, allowed to tick things over against Brett D’Oliveira and Daryl Mitchell, Wakely passing 50 for the first time this season shortly after Newton recorded his maiden ton.

Northants’ long tail, with Ben Sanderson, Richard Gleeson and Azharullah would come back to haunt them, especially given Worcesteshire’s late order runs.

Following the middle order collapse, Sanderson joined Rossington with 40 still required and although the former Middlesex man did his best, he couldn’t quite drag his side over the line on his own.

For Northants, one point from three games leaves them an uphill task to qualify, whilst Worcestershire remain unbeaten, largely thanks to a middle and lower order recovery that allowed them to pose a total enough to earn the tie.

The first recovery came from Mitchell, the only one of the top order to make an impression on his return to the side in place of Moeen Ali, putting on 70 for the third wicket after Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Tom Fell had fallen early.

However the latter’s dismissal was quickly followed by D’Oliveira without score and when Mitchell drove Graeme White to cover the visitors seemed up against it, reaching the 30-over mark 124-5.

Cox had one life, which would prove crucial as Sanderson was unable to hold on running round from long on, but Northants kept taking wickets, and when Azharullah bowled both Leach and John Hastings without three balls of the 42nd over, 277 looked a long way off indeed.

But Cox struck two sixes and seven fours as he recorded a maiden one-day half century, and Barnard played a fine knock, his 42 coming off just 27 balls as 51 was added for the ninth wicket, and then 27 for the last after Cox hit Gleeson to third man, Shantry hitting the final two balls for what proved key boundaries.

Thakor ton inspires Derbyshire to record chase

 

Shiv Thakor’s maiden List A century powered Derbyshire to their first ever chase of 300 or more in one-day cricket and Billy Godleman his first victory in 17 attempts as Falcons captain.

They did it in some style too, Godleman also making 95 in a second-wicket stand of 168 as the hosts made light work of Northants 307-7 to win by six wickets with eight balls to spare.

Thakor made 130 and also took 3-39 as the visitors couldn’t fully capitalise on Richard Levi’s 109, before their bowlers toiled for the second game running.

Warwickshire knocked off 159 for no loss on Thursday, and with two of Derbyshire’s four wickets to fall coming via run outs, the Steelback’s bowlers have sent down 76 overs in this years’ One-Day Cup between them for only two wickets.

Godleman and Thakor made light work of the task in hand, keeping with the required run-a-ball throughout, and although the former fell just short of a hundred, Derbyshire could cruise home and ease past their previous record chase of 298 against Worcestershire last year with four overs to spare.

For Godleman it was the end of a year long wait to skipper his side to victory, having gone winless in the Championship last year, before also taking over the one-day captaincy this season.

It was only the second one-day game Thakor has played in a new role at number three, having also taken the position in the Championship, and he is relishing the opportunity while praising the platform set by the openers.

“Its been a great day for us all,” Thakor said.

“We came here looking for that first win, the most important thing it’s we’ve got the two points. We’ve got three points on the board so we’re all thrilled from today’s performance and looking forward to Tuesday.

“They got off to a flyer, we’re blessed to have two such good opening batsmen, Billy played fantastically today, led from the front. It was a shame he didn’t get the hundred he deserved.

“They set a great platform, we were ahead of the game and it made it a lot easier coming in, luckily I got off to a nice start, I was just trying to support Billy out there.

“There was an opportunity there [at number three], something I relish. It’s the best chance you get to impact and contribute to match-winning performances. I want to challenge myself and make significant runs, it was something I wanted to do and hopefully it’s a start.”

It was a victory that had looked unlikely at the halfway point as Northants’ posted a total that Derby had only exceeded four times in their List A history, as Richard Levi made hay at the venue for the second time in three weeks.

His 99 played a key role as Northants chased 336 to win the Championship clash between the sides over the Easter weekend and although he would make three figures, his first one-day hundred for Northants, it wouldn’t be enough.

Josh Cobb also passed 50, but was bowled round his legs by Thakor six runs later, while Ben Duckett (21), Rob Keogh (23) and Alex Wakely (38) all made starts but couldn’t kick on.

Having raced out the blocks with 71 from the opening powerplay and 236-4 at the 40-over mark, Northants looked set to get well in excess of 300, but couldn’t accelerate in the final ten. Levi was unable to truly open his shoulders until after reaching three figures in the 48th over.

Had Northants posted the extra 30-40 that looked possible at that stage, it might have proved a task too far, but once Godleman and Slater had put on 68 in the first ten overs, the hosts never looked in danger.

With the visitors bowling attack offering too many boundary balls, 12 coming in the first powerplay itself, even Slater’s run out couldn’t derail the chase as Thakor was quickly into his stride. Northants spinners were unable to gain any assistance, after Derbyshire’s Jeevan Mendis had also struggled.

The pair ensured the required rate never crept much higher than the run a ball mark throughout, the only half chance coming when keeper Adam Rossington couldn’t get a thin edge down the leg side.

The pair were locked on 94 apiece with the 150 partnership brought up, Thakor winning the race to his century, passing a previous best of 83 with three consecutive boundaries off Steven Crook.

Godleman couldn’t follow however, falling five short of repeating his only previous century, also against Northants two years ago.

It wouldn’t stop the march to victory as Wayne Madsen joined Thakor, although both would fall in the 46th over. Madsen was caught at cover off Buck before two balls later Thakor hit a high full toss, called a no-ball, to Graeme White in the deep, only to run himself out attempting a second.

All it meant is that new signings Gary Wilson and Daryn Smit were able to mark their home debuts with a brief cameo to take their side over the line for a first victory following Thursday’s washout at Durham, whilst Northants are already up against it to qualify following back to back defeats.

“Every time we tried to put the foot down and put them under pressure we lost a wicket and had to rebuild,” Northants’ centurion Levi said afterwards.

“We got plenty of good partnerships we just didn’t get one big or effective one, but at 307 at the beginning of the day we’d have taken it.

“It’s not impossible and with the games coming thick and fast you get the momentum, get some wins other teams are losing so we’re not out of it by any stretch. But Wednesday at home is a big game to stamp our authority and get some points on the board.”

Attack the perfect form of title defence for Warwickshire in Royal London One-Day Cup opener victory over Northants

Sam Hain and William Porterfield shared an unbroken stand of 162 as Warwickshire kicked off the defence of their Royal London One-Day Cup title in dominant fashion, cruising past Northamptonshire by 10 wickets in a rain shortened contest.

After the hosts struggled to 150 all out in the last of their allotted 30 overs, an innings thrice interrupted by showers throughout the afternoon, Warwickshire had no such issues, as the opener pair were untroubled, by either the weather or the Northants attack, cruising to victory with four overs to spare.

The opening weeks of the Championship season have proved a struggle for the Edgbaston side, but just as it did in their run, and victory, at Lord’s last year, a return to One-Day action provided, solace and a welcome return to form.

The same could be said for Hain, who had managed only five runs in four Championship innings, but raced out of the block against the white ball, hitting eight boundaries in the opening five overs, which quickly broke the back of the modest chase, adjusted to 159 by D/L.

“It’s been a good start,” Hain said afterwards. “I think the bowlers did quite well, probably a good toss to win but good to get a few runs and free myself out there.

“The Championship has been a funny one, I can’t buy a run, but in the white ball I know my game pretty well, so it’s nice to go out there not think too much and free myself up and enjoyed it.

“Will has played a lot of one day cricket for us and Ireland so he keeps me under wraps out there, as I keep saying it’s nice to get a few.”

Hain innings was a classical display of straight and cover driving, admittedly helped by some wayward Northants bowling, with his 30th ball worked through the leg side for a tenth boundary to reach fifty, by which point his side were well on the way to victory.

Porterfield was content to play the supporting role as the pair put on a repeat of their partnership against Northants at Edgbaston last year, when they put on 180 on route to an eight-wicket victory, and this time around, although chasing a smaller total, they wouldn’t be separated.

The Ireland captain went to his own half century off 63 balls, whilst Hain would run out of runs to reach a third List A century, but the result was never in doubt during the chase, an altogether more straightforward innings than Northants effort, having been inserted.

As in all the other matches across the country, Warwickshire opted to bowl first upon winning a crucial toss, leaving Northants to battle the conditions as much as the Warwickshire bowlers in an innings that needed five hours to bowl 30 overs, having originally started on time.

Interruptions after two, 12 and 18 overs were met with a batting display just as disjointed from Northants, who in truth never really got going, lost wickets at crucial times and only Keogh’s valiant lone hand took them to the 150 mark.

These were perfect conditions for Rikki Clarke, who was his usual miserly self with the new ball, accounting for Ben Duckett, slashing to cover, whilst taking a smart return catch to dismiss Steelbacks captain Alex Wakely.

Josh Cobb was the only other Northants batsman to make any impression but after his 33 at the top of the order he holed out shortly after resumption number two and when Adam Rossington did the same thing after the third restart, he sparked a collapse of three wickets for 12 as the hosts slid to 105-6, Jeetan Patel with 2-26 from his six overs.

Oliver Hannon-Dalby wrapped up the tail to finish with three to his name, but despite Keogh adding 20 for the final wicket, it never looked like a challenging total, and so it proved as Northants fell to defeat in their opening One-Day Cup match for the third successive season.

RLODC Preview: Northants v Warwickshire

County Cricket’s version of the Community Shield kicks-off Sky Sports’ live coverage of the 2017 summer as Warwickshire begin the defence of their Royal London One-Day Cup title at Wantage Road, home of NatWest T20 Blast Champions Northamptonshire.

The new format of this year’s competition sees the group stage condensed into the next three weeks, and the short and sweet format will see all but six counties 50-over interest ended before the middle of May.

The One-Day Cup provide a rare chink of light in an otherwise disappointing start to the season at Edgbaston, but even a Lord’s victory wasn’t enough to prevent Dougie Brown from losing his job at the end of the summer.

A batting line-up featuring the undoubted class of Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell is more suited to the slightly leisurely pace of 50-over, in comparison to 20-over, cricket and after a difficult start to the new Championship season, the Bears might be welcoming a change of pace.

Northants meanwhile come in high on confidence with two wins and a narrow defeat at Worcester at the start of their Division Two campaign, and will relish being back in coloured clothing with their squad naturally geared towards white ball cricket rather than red.

In addition to their T20 triumph, Alex Wakely’s men finished top of the North group of the One-Day Cup in 2016, only beaten by Surrey in the quarter-final after a Kumar Sangakkara masterclass. Combined with an unfortunate injury to Richard Gleeson, it left a feeling of what might have been in the competition.

 

Key Man

Richard Gleeson came from nowhere to take Northants’ white ball cricket by storm last summer, bowling up to 90mph and often taking early wickets in both the One-Day Cup and T20 Blast. His injury against Surrey was followed by further setbacks during the winter, but the 29-year-old has been eased back to full fitness in time for Thursday, and took a hat-trick in Tuesday’s second team clash with Derbyshire.

Ian Bell’s ODI career may have never reached its full potential but he remains a class act at domestic One-Day level, and was a key part alongside Trott in the engine room of Warwickshire’s batting as they lifted the trophy at Lord’s. He showed form with 99 in the Championship this week, and if the Bears are going to challenge once more, the skipper will need to lead from the front.

 

Team News

Northants welcome back Richard Gleeson, who didn’t feature in the three opening Championship games, after a series of winter injuries, however Rory Kleinveldt and Ben Sanderson don’t make the squad after injuries ruled them out of the game at Worcester last week. Nathan Buck is set to make a List A debut for the County.

Northants Squad: Muhammed Azharullah, Nathan Buck, Steven Crook, Josh Cobb, Ben Duckett, Richard Gleeson, Rob Keogh, Adam Rossington, Rob Newton, Richard Levi, Alex Wakely, Graeme White.

Warwickshire include leg-spinner Josh Poysden in a 14-man squad, having not featured in the Championship so far. However they have no new injury worries, Ian Westwood the only man omitted from the draw against Surrey, while Sam Hain returns and Grant Thornton could make his county debut if selected.

Warwickshire Squad: Ian Bell, Tim Ambrose, Keith Barker, Rikki Clarke, Sam Hain, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Ateeq Javid, Jeetan Patel, William Porterfield, Josh Poysden, Aaron Thomason, Grant Thornton, Jonathan Trott, Chris Wright.

 

Weather and Conditions

Unfortunately, the scorcher that was the opening weekend of the season seems a distant memory with a decidedly chilly spell this week set to continue on Thursday. Highs of only 11 degrees and rain showers could make it a frustrating afternoon and evening at Wantage Road.

Pitches at Northants, especially for white-ball cricket have generally been good for batting in recent years, especially the central wickets, which will be used with the TV cameras in town.

Date: Thursday April 27th 2017

Time: 12:30pm

Venue: Wantage Road, Northampton

Umpires: David Milns & Tim Robinson

Odds: Northants 10/11, Warwickshire 10/11

Northants tear through Glamorgan to take control

It was a day of contrasts at Wantage Road as the 2017 County season started in dramatic fashion in the East Midlands. One which quickly turned into a dream start for hosts Northamptonshire, and a nightmare for Glamorgan, from the moment captain Jacques Rudolph elected to have a toss and opted to bat.

Within the blink of an eye Glamorgan were 9-3 and then 26-6, and for a while their recovery to 101 didn’t look too bad when Northants were reduced to 26-3 in reply. But, by the close, Rory Kleinveldt had smacked an unbeaten 71 from just 41 balls as the hosts ended 167 runs to the good.

In many ways the two sides had carried on where they left off at the end of the 2016 season. Glamorgan had lost 6-10 in their second innings to lose against Leicestershire, one of four defeats in their final five games. And by the time Nathan Buck had taken three wickets in his first nine balls on Championship debut for Northants today, their last 12 Championship wickets had fallen for only 36 runs.

For a young batting line-up that struggled for runs, ducks for Nick Selman, David Lloyd, Chris Cooke and Kiran Carlson is hardly an ideal start for Glamorgan, whilst captain Rudolph, again coming off the back of a lean year, made only nine.

Aneurin Donald carried the Welsh side to three figures and slight respectability but 84-8 at lunch can hardly have been what Rudolph imagined when he won the toss. The pitch provided just enough assistance, which Northants’ bowlers took full advantage of.

Rory Kleinveldt started things off with three early strikes, before Buck’s burst and Ben Sanderson wrapped up the innings as all three claimed three apiece, Glamorgan dismissed 20 minutes after lunch.

There was a point when 101 didn’t appear as disastrous as it might have been. Ben Duckett, on his first appearance for Northants after a difficult winter, could only make 12 before becoming Marchant de Lange’s first Glamorgan victim, youngster Max Holden also falling without score.

27-3 could have become 27-4, but Craig Meschede bowled Alex Wakely with a no-ball and the very next delivery was spilled at slip by Carlson. It would prove a crucial moment as, instead of exposing the attacking Northants middle order early, Wakely and Rossington were able to stabilise and built the platform for Kleinveldt’s extraordinary assault.

The lead was 69 when the South African walked to the crease, with 11 overs left in the day, but eight fours and four sixes later Northants were walking off 167 to the good. Glamorgan were unsuccessful in a short ball attack to Kleinveldt, who reached his half century in just 23 balls.

“It is [a dream start], hopefully it’s a sign of things to come,” Kleinveldt said.

“It was bit of a strange morning, I don’t think anyone or the captain knew what they wanted to do, could feel a bit of moisture so was hoping we’d bowl first. Luckily we did and we exploited that, myself Sando and Bucky on debut having a dream debut.

“Wakers [Alex Wakely] got away with a couple early on, but him and Rosso had a great partnership, Richard came in and played positively which put us on the front foot and myself and Crooky were able to come in and play with some freedom.

“I was helped there was a bit of short boundary on one side, just tried to back myself to clear that boundary, if I hit it half well enough.

“I still feel that there’s a few balls doing a bit, if we do as well as we did in the first innings I think we’ll be able to [bowl Glamorgan out for a second time]. It’s about being able to roll it out again and being consistent.”

Kleinveldt finished with the second highest strike rate in Division Two last season, one of four Northants’ players in the top six. Their positive play helped them to three straight wins at the end of the campaign, and they are in a great position to make that four over the weekend.

It may only be the end of day one, but already it seems a long way back for Glamorgan, on a pitch which showed signs of variable bounce. Being so far behind with so long left in the game, it is already looking ominous for Glamorgan, not what they would have wanted having only finished above Derby in last season’s final table.

SSCC: Northants v Glamorgan Preview

When Glamorgan visited Wantage Road at the end of last summer, they and Northamptonshire were teams heading in different direction.

Northants, fresh off the back of winning the T20 Blast, took that confidence into the Championship, and the huge 318-run win was one of three successive victories to sign off the four-day campaign. Glamorgan’s season tailed off after their T20 quarter final defeat – four losses in the last five left only Derbyshire below them in the final reckoning.

However, a new season brings a fresh start, and Glamorgan will at least be spared the raging turn that saw Rob Keogh and Graeme White share all 20 wickets on an old fashioned Wantage Road Bunsen.

For Northants, until their belated run of form, the Championship had been somewhat of a struggle compared to their red-hot white ball campaign. Head Coach David Ripley admitted his side were sometimes underprepared as they, understandably, put their focus on white-ball cricket.

The change of format should benefit them this year though, and the opening block of three games, the visit of Glamorgan followed by trips to Derbyshire and Leicestershire, providing an opportunity for Ripley’s men to make a strong start that could be the springboard for a surprising promotion challenge.

For Glamorgan, the pressure will be on a young batting line-up to make a positive start after a disappointing 2016, while captain Jacques Rudolph will want some early runs to avoid awkward question starting to form over his role at the top.

The late signings of Marchant de Lange and Harry Podmore, the latter on loan from Middlesex for the opening month, provide a boost to the bowling attack, but perhaps that could also be unsettling so close to the start.

Key Men

Ben Duckett was the star of 2016, not just for Northants, but in County Cricket overall. But he returns from a mixed winter with questions over whether he can continue to churn out the runs like he has over the past season and half. Despite much of that success in the Championship coming as an opener, Duckett is expected to move to number four, a position that should suit his natural strokeplay.

Glamorgan captain Jacques Rudolph endured a difficult campaign with the bat, making only 659 runs in 15 games, at an average under 25. One of the few experienced heads in an otherwise useful batting order, Rudolph will need to lead from the front, and will be hoping for a strong start to the campaign.

Team News

Northants have been hit by a pair of injuries ahead of the opening game, with Muhammed Azharullah out for 4-6 weeks, while Rob Keogh misses the opener after being hit on the foot in a warm up game. Richard Gleeson isn’t yet up to full fitness following winter knee surgery.

South African duo Richard Levi and Rory Kleinveldt have arrived and are included in the squad, while there are likely to be competitive debuts for Nathan Buck and Max Holden.

Northants squad: Nathan Buck, Josh Cobb, Ben Duckett, Max Holden, Rory Kleinveldt, Richard Levi, Rob Newton, Adam Rossington, Alex Wakely (c), Graeme White, Ben Sanderson.

Glamorgan will have Harry Podmore available after he resigned for the club on Thursday, on an initial one-month loan deal from Middlesex, having spent last summer on loan at the Swalec. Marchant de Lange is also set to make his debut for the county.

Glamorgan squad: Jacques Rudolph (c), Lukas Carey, Kiran Carlson, Chris Cooke, Marchant De Lange, Aneurin Donald, Colin Ingram, David Lloyd, Craig Meschede, Owen Morgan, Harry Podmore, Andrew Salter, Nick Selman.

 

Weather and Conditions

After last seasons incredible wet start, that saw the last two and a half days of the opening Championship game at Wantage Road washed out, the weather looks unusually settled for this early April clash. Little rain is anticipated throughout, with temperatures hitting a high of 21 degrees on Sunday, before dipping to a rather more chilly 12 on Monday.

The Wantage Road groundsmen have struggled in the past couple of years to find a balance between flat and too lively pitches, often ending up with the former. This is particularly true on the right hand (as viewed from the pavilion) end of the square, where this weeks’ wicket is located, the game against Loughborough MCCU producing scores of 435-6, 553 and 185-0.

Date: 7th – 10th April 2017

Venue: Wantage Road, Northampton

Odds: Northants 8/11, Glamorgan 11/10

Northamptonshire Season Preview

For four years Northants have played up their underdog tag. They are one of the smallest counties, with the smallest player staff, the un-fashionables from Wantage Road.

In 2017, perhaps they will be the underdog no more. David Ripley and Alex Wakely have become a formidable unit, especially in white ball cricket where Northants have been the most successful T20 side in the county since the pair were appointed captain and coach in 2013.

Last summer they once again rose to the top, against three sides packed full of internationals. It was Northants who stunned star studded Nottinghamshire, and saw off Durham, to lift the Blast title. Players, fans, relatives (and reporters) celebrated in the rain at Edgbaston, as the unity that Ripley and Wakely have created, the sense of belonging and togetherness at Wantage Road, was on full display.

It wasn’t just in T20 that they excelled, however. They also finished second in the One-Day Cup North Group, only to be beaten by a Kumar Sangakkara century in the quarter-finals, something that was not helped by an untimely mid-over injury to Richard Gleeson that left fans wondering what might have been.

Whilst other counties have their star names, Northants’ success is borne out of a close-knit dressing room, and a real team effort. Ben Duckett might have, deservedly, taken the plaudits last summer, but it was far from a one-man show. Almost every member of the squad stepped up at one point to produce a match winning performance when needed. It was a summer disrupted by injuries and international call-ups, but there was always somebody ready to come in, take their chance and keep the Steelbacks wagon rolling.

It is this unity that could allow them to thrive once more, with a virtually unchanged squad. Nathan Buck, who could prove a useful addition, is the only new signing, replacing Warwickshire bound Olly Stone, who missed most of last summer with a knee injury, whilst overseas duo Rory Kleinveldt and Seekkuge Prasanna are also returning.

Northants have made no secret of their prioritising the white ball game, and T20 cricket in particular. Given their success, who can blame them? Once again they will likely be written off but three finals, and two trophies in four years, can be no fluke. The Steelbacks will be confident of challenging in the knockout stages once again.

The new format might also see an improvement in their Championship performances, with bigger concentrated blocks on four day cricket meaning they will avoid having to manage their squad through a four day game ahead of the upcoming T20.

Four wins in their last six Championship games, including the last three, showed what they can do, and with the promotion picture likely to be wide open, after Notts at least, don’t rule out the perennial underdogs surprising everyone with a promotion push.

Ins: Nathan Buck (Lancashire), Max Holden (on loan from Middlesex until the end of June)

Outs: Olly Stone (Warwickshire), Monty Panesar (released)

Key man – Ben Duckett

Ben Duckett enjoyed a simply stunning 2016, starting with 282* in the opening Championship game, and he didn’t stop scoring runs all summer, be it in four-day, 50 over or 20 over cricket, for Northants and for the England Lions. It lead to an unprecedented double as he scooped, or should we say Duckscooped, both the PCA Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards, and topped it all off with an England test call up.

However, the diminutive left-hander’s rapid assent was eventually halted at the hands of India’s spinner, and whilst the test call up may have come slightly too soon for the 22-year-old, the real test will be whether he can back up his 2016 exploits this summer. With him unlikely to be initially involved for England, he will remain Northants go-to man in all three formats.

Player to watch – Richard Gleeson

At 29 Richard Gleeson is no spring chicken, but a late bloomer who burst onto the county scene last summer after years of toil for Cumberland in the minor counties. Given his chance in the T20 Blast, due to injuries, Gleeson showed raw pace, clocking almost 90mph on the Sky Sports speed guns, and proved to be Northants secret weapon, often making early inroads. He was the only regular bowler to go at less than a run a ball in the entire competition, his 14 wickets costing 16 apiece at 5.97, remarkable in modern T20.

A season that starting with him working as a coach for the Lancashire cricket board ended with a full time Northants deal, but he was cruelly denied a place at Finals Day, picking up an injury in the One-Day Cup quarter-final against Surrey less than 48 hours before the Edgbaston showpiece. Further injuries over the winter are a worry, but if he can stay fit, his pace could prove a real asset and trouble batsmen across the country.

Overseas signings:

Continuity is the key for Northants this year, with Rory Kleinveldt returning for a third season as the county’s main overseas player, and an old fashioned overseas player in that he is available for the entire season.

Seekkuge Prasanna is also returning for the entirety of the T20 Blast campaign, the leg spinner having played his part in Northants’ road to Finals Day last season.

How they’ll fare

With a squad virtually unchanged from the squad that finished second in the North group, in both the T20 Blast and One-Day Cup, Northants should be competitive once again. A place in both quarterfinals would not be a surprise, with every chance of going further, although avoiding injuries to key men will be crucial. The new format should help them focus more on Championship cricket, and bring an improvement in results. Promotion, however, might prove a step too far.

Opening Fixture:

Friday April 7th-10th v Glamorgan at Wantage Road

Season Odds:

Specsavers County Championship Division Two: 14/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 16/1
Natwest T20 Blast: 12/1

 

Season Review 2016: Northamptonshire

Forever the underdog, Northamptonshire keep on punching above their weight and, while there was plenty of uncertainty off the field in 2016, Alex Wakely’s side had a season to remember on it, claiming a second T20 Blast title in four years.

Northants had the smallest playing staff of any county, starting the season with just 15 players on the staff but Wakely, along with head coach David Ripley, have formed a real bond and team unity within the squad that cannot be underestimated as a factor to their success.

The club has focused on white-ball cricket in the past few years and, although David Willey moved on, some shrewd recruitment meant Northants hardly missed the all-rounder. With a squad full of match winners, they qualified second in the Blast North group before dispatching Middlesex, Nottinghamshire and then Durham to lift the crown.

Whilst Ben Duckett took the plaudits with a run laden summer, it was far from a one-man show, but rather part of a team effort.

Northants didn’t boast any of the top five run scorers or leading wicket takers, but instead had a whole team ethos with various players making crucial contributions throughout.

Richard Levi’s powerful starts ensured the T20 campaign got off to a flyer, and allowed them to ride a slight wobble into the quarter finals, whilst Adam Rossington came good later in the campaign and Josh Cobb was a steady hand throughout.

With the ball as well, injuries to Rory Kleinveldt and Olly Stone threatened to wreck their progress, but Richard Gleeson proved a revelation, whilst Ben Sanderson and Moin Ashraf were both signs of Northants looking outside the recruitment box and finding hidden gems.

At Finals Day, the focus was on the star studded squads of Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, whilst Durham boasted Ben Stokes and Mark Wood. Northants were missing Gleeson, injured two days before, and overseas player Seekkuge Prasanna.

Nevertheless, Duckett and Cobb produced two innings of individual brilliance that proved the difference as Northants walked away with the trophy, Wakely lifting it for a second time in four years, having also reached the final in 2015.

Captaincy is often an underrated asset in the modern game, but the way Wakely has moulded his young and small squad has been impressive. He also chipped in with the bat and no more so than on Finals Day, when he proved the crucial glue with both Duckett and then Cobb, as the side twice showed their resilience to recover – from 15-3 against Notts and then 9-3 to beat Durham in the Final.

Success wasn’t limited to T20. They also put on a fine showing in the Royal London One-Day Cup, reaching the quarter finals where they were only denied by a Kumar Sangakkarra century that guided Surrey to a one wicket win off the final ball.

It was a cruel end to a campaign that had seen Northants score more runs than any other side in the group stage, which started with the game of the summer, as Nottinghamshire smashed 445 at Trent Bridge, only for Northants to come within 20 of an historic win.

They reached 300 on three further occasions, with an average score of 313, Josh Cobb and Ben Duckett to the fore with the bat, whilst Graeme White, so often the support bowler, took centre stage with 18 wickets, claiming the PCA player of the year award for the competition.

With the focus on the white-ball game, it was perhaps inevitable that Northants Championship campaign wouldn’t reach the same heights, and with only one promotion place, promotion was never an achievable ambition.

Still, 10 winless games was a disappointment. Ripley questioned their desire at the longer format, following a humbling defeat by Worcestershire, but a win belatedly arrived at Glamorgan, and it kick started a late season revival.

It would have been easy, and perhaps understandable, had Northants tailed off following the T20 title, and the celebrations that followed, but instead they were revitalised. Three successive victories saw them finish a credible fifth, Ben Sanderson the star with 31 wickets in the final six games to reach 55 overall.

It capped off a great summer and, with improved stability off the pitch, as well as key men signing new contracts, the future is looking brighter over Wantage Road.

SSCC: 5th Division Two
T20 Blast: Winners (2nd North group)
RLODC: Quarter-final (1st North group)

Leading run-scorers:

SSCC: Ben Duckett 1,338; T20 Blast: Ben Duckett 477; RLODC: Ben Duckett 443

Leading wicket-takers:

SSCC: Ben Sanderson 55; T20 Blast: Rory Kleinveldt 15; RLODC: Graeme White 18

Win %: 43%

Player of the season

Honourable mentions go to Josh Cobb and Ben Sanderson, but 2016 was well and truly Ben Duckett’s year. The 21-year-old started the year with a 282* in the Championship opener and never looked back as the runs flowed almost all summer, in all three formats.

A second Championship century followed, while scores of 98 and 121 in the One-Day Cup preceded his record breaking spell with the England Lions, where 163* and 220* launched him into the national spotlight.

Northants’ leading run scorer in all three competitions, Duckett’s 84 in the T20 semi-final followed a series of cameos early in the competition, and Just when it looked like his Championship form was tailing off, scores of 187 and 208 were pivotal in Northants’ late season wins.

Full England call ups to the test and ODI squads, as well as becoming the first player ever to win both the PCA Players player and Young Player of the Year, put the icing on a phenomenal year, which could yet get ever better.

Breakthrough player

At 28, Richard Gleeson is no youngster but until this summer had spent his career trawling through the minor counties circuit for Cumberland, whilst working as a community coach for Lancashire Cricket Board.

After making a debut at the tail end of 2015 Gleeson’s opportunity came in the T20, following injuries to Olly Stone and Rory Kleinveldt, and he grabbed it with both hands regularly taking wickets at the start of the innings and touching 90mph.

His 14 wickets came at an economy rate of less than a run a ball, the best of a regular bowler in the competition, but he was cruelly denied the chance to complete his fairy-tale raise at finals Day, sustaining an injury in the One Day Cup quarter final just two days before the Edgbaston showpiece.

Could have done better

The breakout star of their 2013 T20 success, Muhammed Azharullah was unable to hit his past heights in 2016. So often a match winner at the death, Azhar seemed to end up on the wrong side of the line more often than not.

Dropped midway through the T20 campaign, eight wickets in 12 games at an economy of 8.48 represented a disappointing return, and he didn’t fare much better in the Championship, with 25 wickets at 41.

Need to work on

Northants white-ball success cannot be denied, but it undoubtedly came at the cost of their Championship form. David Ripley admitted they went weeks without practising with a red-ball, such was the schedule, and perhaps a balance needs to be found.

Three successive wins at the end of the season after finals Day shows the potential they have without white ball distractions, and the change in schedule for 2017 could be of benefit.

What’s next?

There is plenty to be positive about in looking ahead to 2017. The rumoured player exodus hasn’t materialised, Olly Stone signed for Warwickshire but Josh Cobb, Ben Duckett and Rory Kleinveldt signing new deals are a big boost, whilst Nathan Buck has already been added.

They could do with adding some depth to the squad, budget allowing, but the Steelbacks should remain competitive in both white ball competitions, and could even challenge for Championship promotion.

Season Rating: 9/10