VIEW FROM THE BLUES: Steelbacks stay in the hunt despite fixture madness

Josh Cobb played a key innings in Wednesday's win over Leicestershire at the County Ground
Josh Cobb played a key innings in Wednesday's win over Leicestershire at the County Ground

Victory tonight at Derbyshire in the London Cup after a tricky week should get the season back on track, and so momentum towards that equally tricky away Twenty20 quarter-final at Sussex.

An absurd 12 days cricket in just 17 days at six venues is seriously testing Northants small and brittle squad to the max, and it’s hurting now.

The crazy fixture list will see the players come off six straight London Cup 50 over games in just 11 days to play a full four-day match in Kent, the lads expected to travel straight after a floodlit game at Northampton to be in Canterbury the next day for the 12pm start.

Not only does the domestic system strip second division teams of our best players, but drives the remaining ones into the ground. This is ridiculous.

But with franchise Twenty20 now a reality and a £40 million offer made by Sky for 2017, we have to be relevant, white-ball ready, and deal with performing in the LC50.

The Durham Jets kicked the London Cup off on Saturday after Friday night’s Twenty20 washout (also against the Jets) smoothed the Steelbacks progression into the last eight of the Blast.

A full house was expected for that Friday game, and the cancellation won’t have been good for finances.

Because of that weekend fixture clash, the club decided to give away 5,000 tickets to fill the seats for the Sky cameras the next day and cut the grumbles from the ex-England professionals in the new media centre.

The Northants bowlers also took a big hit on the Saturday, as the well-drilled Jets ran up 312 off their 50 overs, their highest one-day score against Northants and the fourth highest by any visiting county to Wantage Road.

Paul Collingwood’s impressive personal best of 132 from 97 balls dominated proceedings alongside a more pedestrian 60 by Phil Mustard.

Enough punters had taken up the free tickets offer to build some atmosphere as Northants set about chasing down the score, but they were soon out of it at 84 for five after 18 overs, a Rushworth flashback seeing the gnarly Durham paceman knocking over three for three in his four for 41.

The Steelbacks had not taken on the new powerplay regulations on fielding restrictions of just two outside the circle for the first 10 overs with with any real thought and gusto.

Richard Levi ground out 87 alongside the rather elegant Ben Duckett, who completed personal bests in all three domestic competitions this month with 69 to lift the home crowd’s hopes with a 125 partnership for the sixth wicket.

But the pitch was just too central for Steven Crook and Rory Klienveldt’s heavy artillery, and they couldn’t take it on in the final 10 overs and were all out for 259.

David Willey (34) seemed distracted during the game, and nowhere near his best and a 53-run defeat it was.

As Durham are the holders, I wasn’t too bothered about our poor transference from 20 to 50 overs, but Monday’s day/nighter at The Oval was alarming.

Surrey, like Durham, are another big side that didn’t progress in the Twenty20 and so have a point to prove in the 50 and have been practising.

It was 343 conceded this time around, Northants’ third highest total ever against a county in List A, and one run away from the record, with star seamer Mohammed Azharullah continuing to go for eight runs an over.

The wicket was taking turn, and the part-time spinners did stop the 400 after Roy (109) and Davies (99) put on that record equaling 195 for the first wicket against Northants at the halfway point, matching Lythe and Lees’ 195 last year for Yorkshire at the County Ground.

Willey, Klienveldt and Crook were again smashed to the ropes.

The Steelbacks reply was hideous, slumping to 61 for eight to a pathetic 123 all out in 25 overs on a flat dry pitch.

How do you lose eight wickets in 90 balls at The Oval?

Surrey were 130-0 after 17, Northants 68-8 off 17??

Without Duckett’s carefree 56 off 45 balls, I dread to think what the score would have been.

The 220-run defeat was Northants’ worse ever in one-day cricket and Surrey’s second all-time biggest victory by runs.

At least Duckett is going in the right direction. Let’s hope he is not putting himself in the shop window though – where most of the Northants bowling ended up in South London!

So, could the lads redeem themselves in a chilly floodlit at the NCG on Wednesday night gainst the Leicestershire Foxes?

Of course they could - it’s Leicestershire!!

An underwhelming batting performance of 244 for nine in a sparsely populated County Ground was at least 30 short, as Northants’ big late hitters again failed on a central pitch which was doing enough to concentrate the mind.

Josh Cobb irritated his old employees with an impressive 86, and Rob Keogh’s welcome 50 made the score competitive, but still too many guys are not performing with the bat.

With no rest-bite, they have to raise themselves or this season will dribble out.

The Foxes were briefly in it under the lights with Ned Eckersley set on 71, but Crooky got him out and that was that, Leicestershire’s long tail tumbling from 146 for four to 189 all out - they are a one-man team.

Leicestershire really are a poor side as Olly Stone (3-36) Crook (3-38) and Kleinveldt (1-16) did the business with attacking seam and two slips,

Rob White wrapped up the game with some tidy spin for two for 38 as punters warmed their hands on the ice cream van.