Steelbacks coach Ripley praises Zaib as all-rounder makes impressive mark against Somerset

Saif Zaib hit 28 from just 13 balls as Northants Steelbacks claimed a nine-run win over Somerset on SundaySaif Zaib hit 28 from just 13 balls as Northants Steelbacks claimed a nine-run win over Somerset on Sunday
Saif Zaib hit 28 from just 13 balls as Northants Steelbacks claimed a nine-run win over Somerset on Sunday
David Ripley has spoken of his delight at Steelbacks all-rounder Saif Zaib producing what turned out to be a match-winning innings in Sunday's Vitality T20 Blast victory over Somerset.

With the Northants innings stuttering badly in the closing stages, and the top five big guns all back in the pavilion, it was Zaib who took it upon himself to lift the Steelbacks to their winning total of 171 for six - Somerset eventually falling just nine runs short at 162 for eight.

The left-hander produced a series of excellent shots to finish on 28 not out from just 13 balls, and his superb six over extra cover from England pace bowler Craig Overton off the final delivery of the innings was as crucial as it was special.

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Zaib also claimed two excellent catches in the deep, and on Saturday he also produced a tidy spell of left-arm spin to claim one for 20 from three overs in the nine-wicket demolition of Worcestershire.

A player who has been in and around the first team at Wantage Road for a few years now, Ripley was delighted that the 22-year-old made a real impact in a Steelbacks shirt when it mattered, and believes such a performance has been coming.

"It was a great little innings against Somerset, and Saif has been doing it all along, since we went to Singapore," said the head coach.

"He then did it in a pre-season warm-up game, did it in a squad game, did it against Leicestershire in a practice match, and he did it again on Sunday.

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"Long may that contuinue because it is a good little habit."

Sunday's match was played at a deserted County GroundSunday's match was played at a deserted County Ground
Sunday's match was played at a deserted County Ground

Zaib made his first team debut at Northants as a 15-year-old, but Sunday's match against Somerset was only his seventh T20 appearance, compared to the 19 first-class games he has played.

Ripley believes the player is well equipped to shine in the shorter formats though, and said: "When he has played in the first team he hasn't always gone as well in white ball cricket with the bat as well as it has with red ball.

"In red ball cricket he has played a lot of innings where he has looked the part, he has looked calm and scored runs.

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"In white ball cricket it has sometimes just been a bit frenetic, and not as well thought out, but he has really found a bit of clarity and some of the messages he has had are sinking in.

"I am really pleased for him because he is a hard-working little cricketer, he bats, bowls and fields, and he had a really good day on Sunday."

Zaib is set to keep his place in the Steelbacks team for Tuesday night's Central Group match against Bimringham Bears, which starts at 6.30pm at the County Ground.

The match will be played out under the floodlights, but once again will be staged behind closed doors.

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So instead of the usual big crowd, flame throwers, loud music and all the other excitement that would surround a T20 derby against the Bears, the only people in the ground will be the players, the groundstaff and a few club workers and journalists.

It certainly creates a strange atmosphere, and an unusual one when it comes to T20, but Ripley is delighted with how his team has adapted to the 'new normal' - although he obviously wants to see the fans back in the ground as soon as possible.

"Obviously we are missing the crowd and what they bring, but at the end of the day there is the pressure you put on yourselves, and the pressure to win games," he said.

"You have the support of your team-mates who are sitting here, and they can be heard bellowing across the ground if you are playing well.

"In some ways that has become the new normal.

"It would be great to get some fans in towards the end of the competition, but as it is at the moment we have to just keep chugging on."