'Hurting' Ripley desperate to give Steelbacks supporters something to cheer

Steelbacks head coach David RipleySteelbacks head coach David Ripley
Steelbacks head coach David Ripley
Head coach David Ripley admits he is ‘hurting’ that the Steelbacks have so far been unable to put on a show for the club’s loyal supporters at the County Ground.

After being starved of live cricket for 18 months, the fans have returned to Wantage Road in recent weeks, but it has been pretty grim viewing.

Firstly, heavy and persistent rain completely ruined the Championship clash with Lancashire at the end of May, and then secondly, the club’s Vitality Blast T20 campaign has been little short of a disaster.

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Northants have played four home games in the competition so far, and have lost all four in pretty comprehensive fashion.

Steelbacks skipper Josh Cobb could be in line for a playing return this weekendSteelbacks skipper Josh Cobb could be in line for a playing return this weekend
Steelbacks skipper Josh Cobb could be in line for a playing return this weekend

The Steelbacks fans have seen plenty of great cricket from the opposition, with Notts batsman Joe Clarke and Leicestershire’s Josh Inglis hammering unbeaten centuries, but not a lot from their own players.

And Ripley is desperate for that to change when Lancashire Lightning come calling on Friday night (start 6.30pm).

Covid restrictions remain in place, but another 1,100 capacity crowd is expected at Wantage Road for what is another must-win clash for the Steelbacks after the finally broke their duck with an emphatic nine-wicket win at Durham on Wednesday.

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It was a result that keeps alive the Steelbacks' chances of reaching the quarter-finals, and Ripley now wants to give the home supporters something to cheer about.

“I am absolutely hurting on that one,” said the head coach when asked about the team’s poor T20 home form so far.

“We have had no cricket, they’ve had no cricket, and it is a really great atmosphere here under the lights.

“It has not quite been the same without the beer corner over there (by the old scoreboard) and the atmosphere that brings, but we still know we are at home and they are supporting us.

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“We haven’t really given them much to shout about, and I hope on Friday night that is different.”

The Steelbacks could also be boosted by the return of their captain this weekend as the team faces what is a huge double header.

The Friday night home date with Lancashire is swiftly followed by a trip to leaders Yorkshire Vikings on Saturday afternoon, and Josh Cobb is closing in on a return to playing after damaging a hamstring in the loss to Notts 12 days ago.

“We are hoping Josh might have a chance of playing at the weekend,” revealed Ripley.

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“He is doing a bit more, and he is in the gym now just trying to build it up a little bit more, so we are hopeful he might get a game in over the weekend.”

Cobb's return would give Ripley a welcome selection headache, following Wednesday's night's return to form of Adam Rossington, who hit 59, and Ricardo Vasconcelos scoring his first T20 half-century.

The pair opened the innings with Richard Levi left out, and they are certain to remain in those roles on Friday.

There could also be a home debut for teenage left-arm wrist spinner Freddie Heldreich who impressed at the Emirates Riverside, claiming a wicket on his first team debut.

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Lancashire arrive at the County Ground having played out a thrilling tie with Notts Outlaws at Old Trafford on Sunday.

That result meant Lightning have now won just one of their past four matches, with another rained off, and they sit fifth in the North Group table, five points better off than the Steelbacks.

They have lost key players Jos Buttler and Liam Livingstone to England duty, but pace bowler Saqib Mahmood returns to the squad for the trip to the County Ground, having recovered from an abdominal strain.

Former Northants fast bowler Richard Gleeson misses out through injury.

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Lancashire Lightning squad v Steelbacks: Dane Vilas (c), Finn Allen, George Balderson, Steven Croft, Alex Davies, Tom Hartley, Liam Hurt, Keaton Jennings, Rob Jones, Danny Lamb, Saqib Mahmood, Matt Parkinson, Luke Wells, Luke Wood