MATCH PREVIEW: Northants Steelbacks v Lancashire Lightning
The top two teams in the North Group meet.
Northamptonshire Steelbacks v Lancashire Lightning
Vitality Blast, North Group
Friday June 17, 2022, 6.30pm
The County Ground, Wantage Road
Lancashire are top of the pile after six wins from eight games, 13 points, while Northamptonshire are two points behind having won five from eight so far.
The Lightning are aiming to bounce back from their first defeat of this season’s Blast, by two wickets against Durham at the Riverside last Friday night.
The Steelbacks, twice champions of the Blast in 2013 and 2016, won their last game - against Worcestershire at home last Thursday evening, and they boast arguably the player of the competition so far in Australian opening batter Chris Lynn, who has totalled 379 runs in six innings so far with two hundreds.
Lancashire can complete the season’s double over Northants having beaten them by two wickets chasing 154 at Emirates Old Trafford last month.
But this will be no easy task. Northants have won all four of their home games so far, posting 220 or more with the bat in three of them.
Northants have recovered brilliantly from finishing bottom of the North Group last season with only four wins from 13 matches. They have already surpassed that tally of wins by one and have six more to play.
Coached by former Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Yorkshire batter John Sadler, new in post this season, they are being captained by experienced batter Josh Cobb.
Gone are the likes of Alex Wakely, David Willey, Richard Levi, Azharullah, who all had a significant impact on past triumphs in this competition.
Now leading their charge are the likes of Lynn, fellow overseas Jimmy Neesham, the New Zealand all-rounder, Cobb, who has been excellent so far this season, young wrist spinner Freddie Heldreich and seamers Tom Taylor and Ben Sanderson.
Alongside Lynn, Cobb has stood out with 169 runs and nine wickets with his off-spinners, while seamers Taylor and Sanderson have 11 and 10 wickets respectively.
Aside from Lynn’s outstanding exploits at the top of the order, the contributions have been shared around with both bat and ball for the Steelbacks.
Opposing player to watch:
Chris Lynn. The opener’s name fulfilled this section when the two sides met at Emirates Old Trafford last month, though he was ruled out through illness at the last minute.
But nothing has changed to suggest we should look elsewhere for this game.
Right-handed Lynn, 32, is one of T20 cricket’s box office batters.
The experienced Australian has plied his trade all around the world in T20 cricket, excelling in the Big Bash, playing in the IPL, the Pakistan Super League, the Caribbean Premier League to name just a few.
He even represented the Northern Superchargers in last summer’s Hundred.
But this season’s Blast represents his first taste of county cricket. The likelihood is that it won’t be his last following some excellent form.
His runs of scores so far for the Steelbacks reads: 16, 83, 106 not out, 61, 0 and 113 not out.
Lynn played four one-day and 18 T20 internationals between 2014 and 2018, ironically with a top score of 44 in both formats.
He has made his name in the Big Bash with home side Brisbane Heat, for whom he has been a long-standing captain before stepping aside ahead of the most recent campaign either side of Christmas.
Only recently, it was revealed he would be leaving the Heat in search of pastures new for the 2022/23 BBL.
In 237 T20 career appearances, he has clobbered 363 sixes. That makes up more than a third of 6,519 career runs.
Lancashire came out on the right side of a tense finish, chasing down a target of 154 to beat Northamptonshire by two wickets off the final ball at Emirates Old Trafford earlier this month (June 3).
Needing six to win off the final over, the home side’s chances appeared to have gone when Jimmy Neesham dismissed both Danny Lamb and Tim David - but, with three needed off one ball, the New Zealander bowled a wide and then a no-ball to give Lancashire the spoils.
Singapore international David’s 26-ball 42, which included a trio of sixes, had been vital in enabling Lancashire to remain unbeaten in this year’s Blast, winning for the fourth time added to an opening night tie against Yorkshire.
Northants’ total of 153-6 had always looked competitive on a used, tacky pitch.
Left-hander Saif Zaib top-scored with a measured 57 not out off 41 balls, while Liam Livingstone, Luke Wood, Richard Gleeson, David and Luke Wells all struck once apiece.
The Lightning then lost regular wickets, including opener Phil Salt for 37 and captain Dane Vilas for 32, as the score slipped to 131-6 early in the 18th over.
Even then, the hosts looked very much in control, with David hitting three sixes in his powerful innings.
But Kiwi Neesham, with his canny seamers, removed him and Lamb off the third and fifth balls of the final over - he finished with four wickets, to drag the game back into the balance with three needed off one ball.
Then a contentious wide and an above waist high full toss thankfully sealed things in Lancashire’s favour.
What they said:
Former Northants fast bowler Richard Gleeson is not looking too deeply into last week’s defeat against Durham, even admitting it can be used positively.
“You're not going to win every game, but we can look to get our losses out the way in the group stage and learn from them,” said the Vitality Blast’s joint second leading wicket-taker in 2022 with 16.
Lancashire have won six games so far, including some close ones such as the aforementioned win over his ex county at Emirates Old Trafford plus the memorable Roses triumph at Headingley.
“There have been some close games and we have found a way to get over the line. That will stand us in good stead when we do get into some crunch games in the knockout stages.”
The Lightning were scuttled out for 130 in last Friday’s defeat at the Riverside before taking the game deep, nearly leaving the North East with their unbeaten record in tact as Durham won by two wickets with three balls to spare.
“We're proud of our performance in the field, and we want to take the positives from that,” added Gleeson.
Matt Parkinson is within striking distance of becoming only the second Lancashire player to take 100 wickets in T20 cricket.
The England leg-spinner is six away from following fellow spinner Stephen Parry (118) to that milestone.