Steelbacks set for big Bears showdown
Northants have won some big games at Edgbaston in recent seasons.
They claimed T20 finals day glory at the ground in 2013, when David Willey’s stunning hat-trick shot down Surrey in the showpiece.
And the Steelbacks were also present in the last-four shake-up last August, when they defeated Birmingham Bears in the semi-final before seeing the silverware snatched from their grasp by Lancashire Lightning.
This week, David Ripley takes his side back to the second city’s premier cricket venue with a real desire to get the job done again.
Because Northants know that beating the Bears this week would see them take another huge step towards the quarter-finals of this year’s NatWest T20 Blast competition.
The Steelbacks and the Bears are leading the way in the North Group, having both won five of their first seven fixtures.
It is Ripley’s side who sit at the summit thanks to their superior run rate and how they would love to put some breating space in the form of points between themselves and their main rivals this week.
“We’re both sitting at the top of the table so it will be a nice fixture to look forward to,” Ripley said.
“As well as finishing in the home spaces, we’re also happy to see gaps emerging between us and the fifth-placed team.
“We’re in a position now where we should be thinking about finishing in the top two to get a home tie but you’ve only got to take your foot off the gas and lose a couple of games back-to-back and the tension starts to build.”
The Steelbacks have been coping remarkably well without a number of their key players, seeing off Leicestershire Foxes last Sunday without the services of Rory Kleinveldt, Seekkuge Prasanna and Olly Stone.
But, with the exception of Stone, who is out for the season with a knee injury, the walking wounded are starting to return.
And Ripley said: “We had Richard Levi back last weekend and Seekkuge Prasanna will be back in a couple of games’ time.
“It was also encouraging to see Rory bowling before the game last Sunday and hopefully he will be there to finish the campaign with us as well.
“There’s plenty to look forward to and that’s not taking anything away from the players who have come in and are doing well.”
However, there are a couple of injury issues that Ripley is keeping a close eye on.
Josh Cobb (knee) and Muhammad Azharullah (thigh strain) are having to be managed carefully as the Steelbacks seek to get the best out of them.
“The lads have nicknamed Cobby (former England defender) Ledley King because he’s just going to turn up and play games on the weekend,” Ripley said. “I think he quite likes it!
“We’re popping a few painkillers at the moment but the performances are brilliant.”