Balancing act for Ripley as promotion-chasing Northants also have sights set on T20 success

South Africa's Dwaine Pretorius will join up with the Northants Steelbacks squad this week
South Africa's Dwaine Pretorius will join up with the Northants Steelbacks squad this week

Northants continue their push for promotion when they begin their latest Specsavers County Championship Division Two match against Derbyshire in Chesterfield on Sunday - but head coach David Ripley also has one eye on the start of the Vitality T20 Blast on Friday.

The County travel to Queen's Park in good spirits after having the better of their drawn match with leaders Lancashire.

Faheem Ashraf

Faheem Ashraf

Ripley's men are currently sixth in the table, but are only 12 points behind Derbyshire, who sit in the third promotion place, so a win this week would see them right in the frame with four matches remaining.

But once the Derbyshire match is out of the way, it's all about the white ball and th T20, with the Steelbacks playing their first game against Durham at Chester-le-Street on Friday night.

Champions in 2013 and 2016, and finalists in 2015, Northants have one of the best recent records in T20 and two international overseas signings will join the squad to help recapture that success.

Dwaine Pretorius, who has been playing for South Africa at the World Cup, and Pakistan’s Faheem Ashraf have both been signed for the whole of the tournament.

With preparation time tight, having players joining the squad that have not been involved in the Specsavers County Championship will be very useful.

“It’s been difficult with the schedule and the games coming thick and fast all the time in these last 10 weeks,” said Ripley.

“The same bowlers in particular have been playing all the time and the rest and recovery in between Championship matches is absolutely vital. So it’s been hard to find any time for T20 practise.

“The county season is pretty brutal and you can’t just throw a practise in here and there and expect it to have the intensity you need to make it really worthwhile.”

Two practise T20s were arranged against Notts at the County Ground a fortnight ago, and two more practise games will take place at Leicester on Saturday before the squad gathers in Chesterfield.

“It won’t be until we get up to Durham that we’ll have our first proper white-ball practise as a whole squad, and that’s the day before our first game,” said Ripley.

“It’s far from ideal preparation but we won’t be alone in that. There’s a lot of Championship matches in the final round before the T20 starts and we’re generally all in the same boat.

“We operate with a small squad so we haven’t got the rotation available to help us cherry-pick our squad as we move towards our white-ball campaign.

“But what we’ve seen so far suggests we’ve got some selection headaches. Having watched the two T20s against Notts we’ve got guys who are giving us some depth to our squad and it’s going to be difficult to pick the final 11 for Durham.”

The bowling attack struggled in last season’s Blast so it was no surprise that Northants signed two players who will bowl their allocation of four overs each.

“Dwaine and Faheem will join us at Chesterfield before we head to Durham so it’s not a lot of time to get to know them before the first game but we’ve been in touch a lot and they know the roles we want from them,” said Ripley.

“If we can get off to a good start at Durham, we’ve then got a good few days where we can practise before the next match before three games on the bounce so before you know it, we’ll be a week in and our tournament will have taken some kind of shape.”

After the trip to Durham, the Steelbacks play Notts Outlaws ay Trent Bridge on July 24, before the County's first Blast home game on Friday, July 26 when they host the Birmingham Bears.

They then host Yorkshire on Sunday, July 28, and Derbyshire the following Friday (August 2).