The last Tuesday in May witnessed the introduction of the county’s premier teams into the NCL Hevey Cup. This tournament, while not as long-lasting as its corresponding league competition, culminates in the hugely popular club finals day, held at the county ground.
Last year saw ONs, Stony Stratford, Brixworth, and Rushden compete for the title, with the former coming out on top. Teams donned their coloured clothing and the pink balls were brought out. For those in the stands, it’s always a relaxed day out with the bonus of some outstanding cricket on offer. For those competing, it’s a chance to test yourself against some of the county’s finest players on a stage unlike any you’ll find on a Saturday. Launching a six into the stands has to be one of the finest feelings for your average club cricketer, and the competition gives you every chance to do exactly that.
This year’s campaign got fully underway for the county’s seeded teams a fortnight ago. While none of the premier league’s teams were eliminated at the hands of any lower-ranked sides, Saints’ match against Horton House provided, perhaps, the most surprising outcome. Saints were bowled out for just 40, with Andrew Neate taking 6 for 9 from his four overs. Horton chased the total down with ease.
Next on the list for notable mentions is Stony Stratford’s game against Overstone. For the second time, Overstone fell afoul of their hosts thanks, in no small part, to Ben Duckett. The England batsman made an extremely successful return to Northants club cricket on Tuesday, smashing an unbeaten hundred from 44 balls, including six maximums. Stony won by nine wickets, and will be hoping, no doubt, that Duckett turns out a few more times over the course of the campaign.
Elsewhere, Kislingbury put in an extremely impressive display against Isham. The Division Three side notched up 221-2 off their 20 overs; Byron Wyngard was eventually dismissed for 106, but the damage had been done, as Isham managed just 101-9 in reply. Elsewhere, giants Finedon and ONs also made it through, and will be joined by the majority of the prem’s sides in the next round.
Generally, the clubs of Northants are less well-versed in the game’s shortest format. Speaking for myself, my only real experience of Twenty 20 comes from the days of age group cricket. Back then, it was standard practice, though. Switching from playing 50 overs to T20 mode requires a definite change of tact. Not only do the batsmen have to attack a lot more from the off, but bowlers are required to get their yorkers in and try the odd slower ball. Add in a different coloured ball, and the competition represents an entirely different game to the one played out on a Saturday afternoon.
These differences not only make it harder for certain teams to compete, but also give more clubs the chance of success. Granted, established premier league sides have, by and large, dominated the competition. They have the best players around and, thus, have the best chances of winning. If, however, a club were to target the competition, focusing heavily on making it through to finals day, they could give themselves a chance of success.
As fewer teams are well-versed in the appropriate skills, a club who shift their focus to T20 games would, surely, be able to capitalise on that. A side cemented in Division 1, for example, could target the competition for a shot at some silverware. Perhaps it’s been tried throughout the county already, but I’d say it’s definitely worth a go if not. St Crispin, for example, currently sit second in Division Two. One would think, therefore, that they’re unlikely to go down; a shift in focus from them for the next few weeks could see them well-placed to challenge some of the county’s big boys.
Overall, clubs do tend to focus more on league success. It makes sense; every Saturday we compete to push ourselves up the leagues, while the T20 competition only runs for six or seven matches a year. There’s a much higher risk that all your hard work will only see you come up against semi-professional players (or even, in some cases, England ones!).
Essentially, clubs have to decide whether they’d like a shot at some T20 glory, or whether they should concentrate on climbing up the table. Personally, I can see the attraction of both. For clubs who tend to finish in the middle of the pack, though, the short stuff might be worth a go. If you’re rarely threatened by relegation, but doubt that you’ll push the league leaders, at least consider practising your ramp shots and wide Yorkers; if it all goes up in smoke, you’ll have plenty of time to return to normality!
With all of this in mind, Northants get underway in this year’s T20 blast next month. The season so far has been somewhat unspectacular, with glimpses that have promised much, but not too much to show for it. As we all know, though, the blast is our speciality as a county, and we can expect a strong showing this time out, too.
In next month’s edition, we’ll take an in-depth look at the county’s chances, and at some of this year’s T20 talking points.