A shoe-string budget, a thread-bare squad and a spot under the radar – it’s just another usual T20 season for the Northants Steelbacks.
Turn the clock back three years, and Northants were the Blast’s undersung heroes, defying the odds and expectations to win the whole tournament and a first trophy since 1992.
Remarkably, the Steelbacks came close to repeating the trick 12 months ago, missing out in the final to Lancashire Lightning, with this appearance at Finals Day marking a third appearance in four years at Edgbaston.
But, with 2013 hero David Willey now in the ranks of fellow semi-finalists Yorkshire, the difficulty ramps up to a whole new level.
Despite that, the Steelbacks are there and are a force to be reckoned with. In the semi-finals on merit, David Ripley’s side finished second in the North Group, earning a home quarter-final with Middlesex.
Much of that was down to their electric start, winning six out of their first seven games, but losing winning just one of their last five clashes – including defeats to all the semi-finalists – stunted their progress.
However, ex-Middlesex man Adam Rossington came back to haunt his old club with an unbeaten 67 to win by seven wickets.
They go in as heavy underdogs, both for the tournament and their semi-final against Nottinghamshire, but the Wantage Road side are the only one of the four to boast a T20 title.
How they fared
As mentioned, the Steelbacks started in scintillating fashion, winning their first three games, with the first two over Leicestershire Foxes and Derbyshire Falcons orchestrated by Richard Levi half-centuries.
Further good results were to follow, but slip-ups to the Nottinghamshire Outlaws, Durham Jets and Yorkshire Vikings threatened to derail their challenge, although a 74-run demolition of Birmingham Bears got them back on track.
Rossington and Alex Wakely were on hand in that one as the Steelbacks posted 200-5 before bundling the Bears out for 126. Graeme White took four wickets.
And that performance carried into the last eight for Northants, with Rory Kleinveldt’s four wickets enough to sink Middlesex.
With their squad tested to the limits, not to mention the injury to Richard Gleeson last night, it sees that any Northants key man will just be someone who can take to the park.
in David Willey, Wantage Road saw its latest England treasure leave its doors, but one they’ll be desperate to hold onto is Ben Duckett. It’s the 50-over game in particular where Duckett has really strutted his stuff, but sitting as his side’s top run-scorer, 389 runs at an average more than 40 hardly strikes of a weakness in the game’s shortest format.
In Rory Kleinveldt, Northants boast one of the more unsung all-rounders on the county game. As well as his 11 wickets in the competition, the South African is also on a run of form in the bat, with his desperate 76 against Surrey on Thursday showing he can deliver when all others fail for the Steelbacks.
To beat Nottinghamshire: 11/4
To win the Blast: 9/2