Vitality Blast campaign in numbers as Steelbacks come up short again

Chris Lynn once again topped the run-scoring charts for the Steelbacks in this year's Vitality T20 Blast - but was way off his total from the run-soaked 2022 campaign.
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And that drop proved to be crucial as Northants failed to reach the quarter-finals of the competition for the sixth time in seven years.

John Sadler’s side did at least keep their qualification hopes alive until the final match of the North Group campaign, but the meek surrender at Lancashire Lightning on Sunday wrapped up a disappointing T20 season in underwhelming fashion.

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The County needed to win at Old Trafford and hope other results went their way, and it turned out whatever they did would have proved irrelevant as Notts Outlaws squeezed past Leicestershire Foxes at Trent Bridge to guarantee their own qualification.

Ben Sanderson was the pick of the Steelbacks bowlers in the 2023 Vitality Blast campaign (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)Ben Sanderson was the pick of the Steelbacks bowlers in the 2023 Vitality Blast campaign (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)
Ben Sanderson was the pick of the Steelbacks bowlers in the 2023 Vitality Blast campaign (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)

But the defeat to Lancashire saw the Steelbacks finish seventh in the nine-team group, four points adrift of qualification and 10 points behind group winners Birmingham Bears.

It means Northants have still not reached Finals Day since winning the competition for a second time in 2016.

In a campaign that unusually saw no matches affected by the weather, Northants won only six of 14 games, with only two of those coming at the County Ground, which ultimately cost them their top four chances.

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Five defeats on home soil, with three of them the first three games of the season, meant David Willey and his team had too much to do on the road, and they were ultimately found wanting.

Chris Lynn failed to reach the heights of the 2022 season, but was still the top run-scorer for the Steelbacks (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)Chris Lynn failed to reach the heights of the 2022 season, but was still the top run-scorer for the Steelbacks (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)
Chris Lynn failed to reach the heights of the 2022 season, but was still the top run-scorer for the Steelbacks (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)

The decision to remove Josh Cobb as captain and replace him with returning England all-rounder Willey just two weeks before the season started certainly raised eyebrows and concerns at the time, but was that move behind the poor start to the season?

That is something we can only speculate about, but the team did take time to find its feet with selection and on-field plans looking a bit muddled early on, with Cobb in particular struggling badly to find the form we all know he is capable of.

He was replaced for the second half of the tournament by rookie Justin Broad, who looks a real find but lacks the six-hitting firepower of two-time Blast winner Cobb.

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The fielding and, at times, the body language in the first half of the North Group campaign also left a lot to be desired, especially when compared to the efforts of the opposition.

It was a mixed campaign for Steelbacks skipper David Willey (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)It was a mixed campaign for Steelbacks skipper David Willey (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)
It was a mixed campaign for Steelbacks skipper David Willey (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)

Things improved for the team on all fronts as the season went on, but by then it was too little, too late

There were flashes of what the Steelbacks are capable of, particularly with the ball as Notts, Yorkshire Vikings and Leicestershire Foxes were all bowled out for low scores in the second half of the campaign.

But in truth, it was a Blast summer that saw most players fail to play to their potential, particularly with bat in hand.

So, on to the numbers… who did what with bat and ball?

Ricardo Vasconcelos scored three half-centuries for the Steelbacks (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)Ricardo Vasconcelos scored three half-centuries for the Steelbacks (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)
Ricardo Vasconcelos scored three half-centuries for the Steelbacks (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)
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Lynn did lead the way on the runs scored chart, with the Australian scoring one century and one half-century, both against Leicestershire, as he amassed 364 runs in 13 innings at an average of 30.33 and a strike-rate of 132.36.

His top score was the brilliant 110 not out against the Foxes at the County Ground, his third T20 ton for the club, all unbeaten.

It's still a decent effort, but way off Lynn's 516 runs from 11 innings last summer, which came at an average of 64.5 and at a strike-rate of 159.25 – 12 months on, he just couldn’t hit the same heights.

Lynn hit 12 sixes and 42 fours this year, with that maximum haul a long way short of the incredible 29 he managed in 2022.

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Next best batter in terms of runs scored was Ricardo Vasconcelos, who looked the part at the top of the order and hit three half-centuries in his 341 runs from 11 innings at an average of 31 and a strike-rate of 138.05.

Third on the run-scoring list was Saif Zaib, who enjoyed another decent campaign, hitting 330 runs at exactly 30 and a strike-rate of 138.07, with a top score of 70 not out.

Australian AJ Tye claimed 19 wickets for the Steelbacks (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)Australian AJ Tye claimed 19 wickets for the Steelbacks (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)
Australian AJ Tye claimed 19 wickets for the Steelbacks (Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images)

The only other player to manage a half-century was Emilio Gay, who amassed 223 runs in his nine matches at an average of 24.77 and a 128.9 strike-rate.

Willey was the only other batter to top the 200-run tally, but he endured a disappointing campaign as he finished on 235 runs at an average of just 16.78 and a strike-rate of 119.09. There was no sign of the destructive power-hitting we all know Willey is capable of.

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Top of the tree in terms of average score was Tom Taylor, who averaged 64.50 despite having a top score of 44 not out. He totalled 125 runs in eight innings, and was only out twice!

It was a campaign to forget for Cobb. For whatever reason, the former skipper never got going and mustered just 76 runs in seven innings at an average of 10.85, with a top score of just 23.

He didn’t feature again after the batting nadir of the season, the confidence-sapping defeat at Edgbaston where Northants failed to chase down the home side’s total of 137 – losing by 30 runs!

With the ball, new captain Willey looked more like his old self than he did with the bat as he claimed 16 wickets at 22.06 and an economy rate of 7.35 runs per over.

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Top of the wicket-taking tree was Australian import AJ Tye who snaffled 19 victims at 20.57, and an economy rate of 8.75.

The right-arm seamer, a four-time Big Bash League winner in his homeland and the only bowler in world cricket to have claimed 300 T20 wickets, made a decent recovery after a poor start to the campaign.

But it’s still fair to say he didn’t have the impact Sadler and club would have hoped for when securing his signature last winter.

Others to claim double digit wicket hauls were Taylor (18 at 20.27), Freddie Heldreich (17 at 20.29) and Ben Sanderson (14 at 16.42), the latter playing only nine matches for his total after missing the early fixtures through injury.

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Unlike almost all of their opponents, the Steelbacks kept pace on the ball, and didn’t place a heavy reliance on spin bowling.

Left-arm wrist spinner Heldreich was the regular go-to man for Willey and he produced some potent spells early on, but his effectiveness waned as the competition progressed, and his economy rate of 9.2 runs per over was too high.

Leg-spinner Alex Russell was named in the squad for every game, but played just once, Graeme White started the opening three games before being sidelined, while the likes of Cobb, Rob Keogh and Zaib barely turned their arm over, bowling 24.2 overs between them all season.

Evergreen seamer Sanderson was comfortably the pick of the bowlers, and as well as his eye-catching wicket haul, his economy rate was a miserly 6.76 runs per over.

Impressive stuff from an impressive player.

Blast stats

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Batters ranked by runs scored (average in brackets): 1 - Chris Lynn 364 (30.33); 2 - Ricardo Vasconcelos 341 (31.00); 3 - Saif Zaib 330 (30.00); 4 - David Willey 235 (16.78); 5 - Emilio Gay 223 (24.77); 6 - Lewis McManus 151 (18.87); 7 - AJ Tye 136 (19.42); 8 - Justin Broad 130 (32.50); 9 - Tom Taylor 125 (62.50); 10 - Josh Cobb 76 (10.85); 11 - Rob Keogh 22 (11.00); 12 - Graeme White 19 (9.50); 13 - James Sales 19 (9.50); 14 - Freddie Heldreich 5 (5.00); 15 - Ben Sanderson 4 (4.00)

Bowlers ranked by wickets taken (average / economy in brackets): 1 - AJ Tye 19 (20.57/8.75); 2 - Tom Taylor 18 (20.27/8.93); 3 - Freddie Heldreich 17 (20.29/9.20); 4 David Willey 16 (22.06/7.35); 5 - Ben Sanderson 14 (16.42/6.76); 6 - Justin Broad 3 (13.66/8.20); 7 - Saif Zaib 2 (39.00/7.54); 8 Alex Russell 1 (27.00/6.75); 9 - Graeme White 1 (66.00/9.42); 10 - James Sales 1 (125.00/8.33); 11 - Josh Cobb 0 (-/10.57)

Catches taken: 10 - David Willey and Saif Zaib; 8 - Lewis McManus (plus 4 stumpings); 7 - Tom Taylor; 6 - AJ Tye and Ricardo Vasconcelos; 3 - Ben Sanderson and Josh Cobb; 2 - Freddie Heldreich, James Sales and Chris Lynn; 1 - Grame White, Emilio Gay and Rob Keogh