Northamptonshire Steelbacks will look to move a step closer to a quarter-final berth in the Natwest T20 Blast on Friday night as they host the Leicestershrie Foxes, who desperately need a win to revitalise their campaign.
The Foxes started off with four straight away wins, having started on the road due to hosting the Women’s World Cup, and a spot in the knock-out stages for the first time since their 2011 title triumph seemed a mere formality.
But since their return to Grace Road was dampened by the Steelbacks, and the weather – Leicestershire having fallen just behind on D/L when rain intervened – their form has nose dived. They’ve had two further defeats (and a no result) on home turf, with a thrashing at Derby in-between.
It leaves’ Clint McKay’s side four points off the top four in seventh and, although they have a game in hand, with ties against Yorkshire and in form Notts in the final week, a sixth defeat in a row will all but end their campaign.
For Northants, the defending Champions once again look well set to quality after back to back wins. A defeat to Birmingham had left them looking over their shoulder, but the Steelbacks bounced back to beat Lancashire and Worcester, and move into second.
They have a three point cushion over Yorkshire and Lancashire in fifth and six, and with the Roses rivals facing each other tonight also, one win will likely be enough to qualify. The Steelbacks will also have one eye on a home tie, with a trip to Yorkshire, followed by hosting bottom of the table Durham on the final round.
Those last two victories were particularity impressive given Alex Wakely’s side had to defend, something which has been a weakness, especially given their spin bowling injury crisis, but Richard Gleeson’s return to form with the new ball has been a major factor.
The win at Grace Road last month was Northants fifth in a row against the Foxes, for whom the last win in this fixture came in 2011, and the Steelbacks look to complete the East Midlands double for the third year in a row.
As mentioned above Richard Gleeson has been back to his best in recent weeks. After being the breakthrough bowler of the 2016 campaign, he struggled to get going this year after an injury hit winter and an early season. But after taking only a single wicket in the opening five games of the Blast, the last four have brought nine, hitting up to 90mph, he has proved a genuine wicket taking threat in the powerplay, helping to reduce Lancs to 24-5 on the way to victory last week.
Colin Ackermann started the competition in top form, averaging 59 with the bat and 11.4 during Leicestershire’s opening four wins, but has since tailed off – like the team. With Northants’ weakness proving to be the middle overs, Ackermann will be key if the Foxes are to take advantage, whilst his bowling gives captain McKay extra options.
Muhammed Azharullah return to the Northants side for the first time in the Blast this season last week, but Nathan Buck missed the win at Worcestershire with injury, whilst the injured duo of Graeme White and Josh Cobb remain on the sidelines, leaving the Steelbacks light in the spin bowling department, with Simon Kerrigan’s loan agreement only covering Championship cricket.
Northamptonshire squad: TBC
Mark Cosgrove ended Leicestershire’s last game batting with a runner, but despite missing this week’s Championship clash, he is fit for Friday night, whilst McKay and Matthew Pillans also included after having been rested against Durham. This means the Foxes name an unchanged 14 man squad from the defeat against Lancashire.
Leicestershire squad: Clint McKay (c), Aadil Ali, Colin Ackermann, Mark Cosgrove Cameron Delport, Ned Eckersley, Gavin Griffiths, John Hill, Deiter Klein, Callum Parkinson, Matt Pillans, Luke Ronchi, Tom Sayer, Luke Wells
Weather and conditions
After a rather wet start to the week, which washed out the final two days of the Championship game at Wantage Road, the rain finally relented on Thursday and Friday is set to remain dry, but it will be cloudy throughout with temperatures in the high teens. T20 pitches have been something of a mixed bag at Wantage Road this year, with Northants favouring a bit of assistance to the seamers, understandable given their lack of fit spinners, and this could continue. This, together with an outfield bound to be on the slow side, could lead to a lower scoring contest than usual.
Venue: Wantage Road, Northamptonshire
Date: Friday August 11
Odds: Northants 4/7, Leicestesrhier 11/8