Steelbacks closing in on deal to sign Shahid Afridi for T20 finals day

FINALS DAY RETURN? - Shahid Afridi
FINALS DAY RETURN? - Shahid Afridi

Northants head coach David Ripley is hopeful Shahid Afridi will return to play for Northants Steelbacks in Saturday’s NatWest T20 Blast Finals Day.

The Pakistan T20 captain played for the Steelbacks in the opening six group games of the competition, and the man they call ‘Boom Boom’ proved to be a big hit.

After his stint with Northants, he played in the Caribbean Premier League for St Kitts and Nevis Patriots and then skippered his country in their 2-0 T20 series win over Sri Lanka earlier this month.

Now Ripley is keen to get him back in England and wants him to line up in the semi-final against Birmingham Bears on Saturday morning.

The Northants coach didn’t try and get Afridi back for the quarter-final win at Sussex Sharks, but with subsequent injuries suffered by the likes of Graeme White and Steven Crook leaving the squad looking a little thin, he believes Afridi could be a key man in winning the T20 title.

Asked if a deal to bring Afridi back was still a possibility, Ripley said: “It is still in the pipeline, but there is nothing confirmed.

“We haven’t given up hope, but we can’t announce that he’s coming as there are a couple of little hurdles.

“We still hope he will be there, which would be a big boost.”

And he added: “We stayed away from it (bringing Afridi back) originally, we were going to stick with the group against a big-name player.

“For the quarter-final we decided we were going with our own, but Graeme White picked up his injury and I thought maybe it was worth exploring Shahid’s availablity for the finals day, should we make it.

“When we did we seemed confident we could do it, but there was another commitment that he (Afridi) had and one or two other things cropped up.

“Then there was whether or not we can afford him, well we have got some outside sponsorship that has taken care of that side of it for us.

“A good supporter of the club has offered to help us with that, so it’s nothing to do with finance whether he comes or not, it’s one or two other bits and bobs.”

Skipper Alex Wakely admits it would be a massive boost to the Steelbacks’ chances of T20 glory if Afridi were to return, especially as it seems likely that star all-rounder Crook is going to struggle to be fit.

Crook injured an ankle while fielding in the LV= Championship Division Two clash with Leicestershire on Saturday, and although scans have thankfully confirmed there is no fracture, the player still has to be a doubt due to possible ligament damage.

“Losing Steven Crook would be a huge blow,” admitted Wakely.

“I actually think he is probably our most important player because he bats middle order and scores big runs, he bowls his four overs every time, and he is a good fielder.

“He would be a big loss for us, and it will be interesting to see how we can balance it.

“We have spoken to Afridi, and we aren’t quite sure where we stand with him, but we have spoken to him.

“We were contemplating whether we were going to try and get him back, but I think now, with the injuries we have had, there is a slot there.

“I wouldn’t want to drop somebody at this stage of the competition, but now the situation has changed.

“If you get in Afridi, he would be a like for like (for Crook), he is box office, he is a match-winner and he brings everything with him.

“He will want to show that he can still do it on the big stage, and in Twenty20 cricket around the world, what better stage is there than this tournament?”