Alex Stockton previews the short form fun ahead at the County Ground
Tonight sees the return of the T20 Blast, with the Northants Steelbacks taking on the Derbyshire Falcons. While the game represents only the first step in what is, undoubtedly, a long and testing journey, it is very important for any prospective challengers to get off to a good start. Alex Wakely’s men will be hoping that they can do exactly that, in front of what promises to be a healthy crowd.
While Northants are yet to make a significant mark on the 2017 season, their trump card is about to be played. The Steelbacks, who have reached three finals days in the past four years, are unquestionably one of the most effective T20 sides in the country. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to rule out another success this season, despite the bookmakers’ odds making their chances seem relatively low. Considering their recent record, the fact that Northants don’t appear in the top five on many companies’ “favourites” list is frankly perplexing. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, though. As we’ve said before, the Steelbacks are used to carrying the underdog tag, and it’s served them rather well.
The fact that the ECB have decided on introducing franchise cricket to England reflects how the smaller counties are, often, viewed. Counties like Northants and Derbyshire thrive off the T20 Blast. While they may not have the funds to regularly challenge in Division 1 of the county championship, the shorter game can level the playing field a little. Add into the equation the knowledge and game management of Northants’ more seasoned campaigners, and you’ve got a seriously competitive side.
In terms of tonight, Derbyshire shouldn’t be overlooked. Like Northants, they have a good number of seasoned professionals with an excellent blend of youth and experience. New Zealander Matt Henry and South African Imran Tahir represent two incredibly exciting overseas players, who could provide some much-needed flair. If Northants aren’t on their toes, they could bear the brunt of an upset.
That being said, Northants remain firm favourites for tonight’s fixture. Ben Duckett’s recent return to form means that he’s entering the tournament with some runs under his belt. Last season, he was one of the most influential players in the side, and his performances on the big occasions went a long way to earning him an England call up. If he can find the same sort of form this time round, the men from Wantage Road won’t be far off. Much as individual players make a lot of difference in the game of cricket, one of Northants’ main strengths is the makeup of their team. Every member of the side has the ability to change a game, with bowlers Kleinveldt, Sanderson, Gleeson and White among the most effective around.
Nothing is ever certain in cricket, particularly in the game’s shortest form. Anyone can beat anyone, depending on how they perform on the day. Perhaps that’s one of the main reasons why Northants have been successful over the past few years: they’ve worked out how to perform as a unit.
Here’s to another T20 Blast campaign, and to another successful one for the Northants Steelbacks.