Old Northamptonians skipper George Arblaster is steeling his side for their ‘toughest test’ of the season this weekend.
Two of the NCL Premier Division’s top three teams go head to head as second-placed Rushden host Arblaster’s men, who are currently three points behind.
The home side go into the game buoyed by a superb 53-run win at Peterborough last weekend.
It was only the the second time the champions had been beaten on their own turf since May, 2011.
But ONs will show no fear this Saturday and Arblaster is eager for them to give a good account of themselves with more tough fixtures to come in the next month.
“It’s probably the toughest test so far this season, but we’re looking forward to it,” said the captain, whose side face Saints, table-toppers Finedon Dolben and Peterborough in the first three fixtures in June.
“Rushden have brought in a couple of really good players and they were already a quality side.
“It’s going to be a really tough ask for us but this is the start of things to come.”
ONs’ task has been made tougher by the absence of Tom Webb.
The experienced opening batsman and bowler is unavailable this weekend, but Arblaster is confident his men can cope.
“Tom Webb is a really key figure for us because he’s been one of the most consistent players the the club during the past few years,” Arblaster said.
“It’s quite a big blow for us, but we’ve managed without him before and we can do so again.
“We’ve got Richard Kaufman available again and he is a like-for-like replacement.
“Richard got 39 last week and took four wickets so he is really showing his worth for us.”
Kaufman’s important contribution helped ONs to a comfortable 85-run victory against Stony Stratford last weekend.
And that has served to increase the confidence ahead of this Saturday’s encounter.
“There is a lot of confidence in the side,” Arblaster said.
“Last season we didn’t bat very well but this time we’re churning out the runs.
“Zaakir Khawaja has hit three 50s in the past three weeks and he’s in good nick, which is really helping us.”
Arblaster would love Khawaja and Co to make it four wins from six games this weekend.
But he insists it is not win or bust for his team, stressing there is no need to pin all his team’s hopes on one fixture.
“We want to win on Saturday, but it’s just as important to get results against the likes of Stony Stratford and Brixworth,” he said.
“We’re not pinning all our hopes on this game. It’s just another match and we know we’ll come unstuck at some point, but hopefully it won’t be on Saturday.”
Elsewhere in the premier division this weekend, Saints will aim to rub salt into the Peterborough wounds.
Mark Wolstenholme’s men host the champions, who will be desperate to avoid back-to-back defeats.
Saints go into the game in good form having won by 37 runs at Horton House last time out.
The victory was secured thanks to 79 from opener Dan Harris and three wickets apiece for Nick Bell and Mayur Odedra.
Horton, who are currently bottom of the table after losing their first five games, will bid to recover by winning at Rushton.
Brixworth host Geddington, while Stony Stratford are at home to Finedon, who beat Brixworth last weekend to remain at the summit.
The day’s other fixture will see Oundle entertain Wollaston, who are just one place and 12 points clear of the drop zone.
Hat-trick hero Ajaz’s ‘amazing feeling’
Hat-trick hero Ajaz Hussain believes extra responsibility was key to his super-show last weekend.
Hussain took six for 25 as Carib United cruised past Cogenhoe in their NCL Division Six clash.
Carib had made their way to 169 for nine, with Abid Zia’s 52 the main contribution, before Cogenhoe were bowled out for just 59.
Hussain’s heroics were key as he claimed three wickets in as many balls to help ensure the win.
And the leg-spinner said: “I normally bowl in the middle of the innings, but I got given the chance to open the bowling this time.
“I hadn’t opened the bowling for three or four years, but it worked really well.
“It was the first time I’d taken a hat-trick and it was an amazing feeling.
“I’ve had many chances to before, but this time I made it happen.
“I’ve got 12 wickets in four games now and I’d love to get to 40 this season.”
If Hussain can do that, his side could be on course for promotion.
Carib have started the season strongly and are currently second, 32 points adrift of table-toppers Obelisk.
And Hussain said: “The aim has to be promotion.
“Hopefully I can keep bowling well and we can go up.”
Hussain and Co host Thrapston IIs this weekend - and the star bowler is confident of another victory.
“They are bottom of the league so we should get the win,” he said.
“It would be too much to expect me to achieve what I did last weekend this Saturday, but I’ll be doing my best.”