Last night, the Norhants Steelbacks became the first north group side to reach the 2016 T20 Blast quarter finals. An outstanding 74-run victory at home to the Birmingham Bears sealed their qualification, but the key to their success throughout the campaign has been consistency.
While they may lack the world-renowned stars that have appeared at other counties, they have a number of excellent T20 players. For example, last night’s outing saw Adam Rossington hit a superb 85 from 51 balls, and Graeme White take a hattrick as part of his 4-20. Both Rossington and White are incredibly valuable T20 cricketers, but arguably not as well known as Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum, or Dale Steyn. As Olly Stone remarked during Sky Sports’ coverage of the game, Northants are a side with a lot of character and togetherness. While Ian Bell’s 62 for the Bears was not backed up by his team mates, Northants’ performance saw almost everyone contribute.
Nick Knight’s assessment of Birmingham’s campaign, that they have relied somewhat on the batting of Sam Hain and Ian Bell, is exactly what Northants have succeeded in avoiding. With Richard Levi and Adam Rossington opening up, there is always a strong chance of a good start. Should they fail to provide one, though, Alex Wakely, Ben Duckett, Josh Cobb, and Steven Crook have all proven their worth on a number of occasions. Rory Kleinveldt is an excellent all-rounder, who hits the pitch hard and the ball even harder, with Sri Lanka’s Prasanna also very dangerous. The Steelbacks have a fine balance to their side which some of the more ‘household’ sides arguably lack. They also boast a number of fine young players. Ben Duckett hit 163* for the England Lions yesterday, and Olly Stone is an excellent quick bowler with a huge amount of potential. Both have long and exciting futures in the game, provided they can steer clear of injury.
Last year Northants fell just short in the final against Lancashire, while in 2013 they beat Surrey to win the T20 cup. Their success in the one-day competitions has not, unfortunately, been mirrored in the county championship competitions. Their most recent campaign in division one was somewhat disastrous, as they failed to register a win, and they have not challenged particularly for promotion since then. Financial difficulties have certainly played their part, as has the loss of a number of their high-profile players. David Willey left for Yorkshire last year, while stars such as James Middlebrook, Jack Brooks, and Niall O’brien have also departed over the past few years.
For now, though, Northants are excelling in the white ball game. They have a superb balance in T20 cricket, and few would bet against them reaching this year’s finals day. They would undoubtedly like to improve their form in four-day cricket, but must find a way to rectify their financial problems before they can realistically expect that. In the 50-over competition they have fallen just short on a couple of occasions, but have performed well throughout the campaign to this point.
All in all, a successful T20 season for the Steelbacks so far. I doubt, though, that they’ll be finished there.