Ripley wants Steelbacks to pile pressure on reigning champions Bears

Northants coach David Ripley
Northants coach David Ripley

It has been a case of feast to famine for the Steelbacks during the past two seasons in the T20 competition.

From the glory-laden campaign of 2013 to the success-starved endeavours of last year, David Ripley’s side have enjoyed and endured quite a rollercoaster ride.

Last time round, they found the going tough, winning just four of their 14 games in the North Group as their attempts to defend their crown fell flat.

The fizz went out of a side that had stunned counties with far bigger budget to claim the trophy at Edgbaston.

But ahead of Friday night’s first home fixture in this season’s competition, the excitement is back.

Despite a disappointing opening-night defeat at Durham, which saw the Steelbacks collapse to 47 for five in reply to 174 before the rain brought a D/L defeat, there is belief in this team.

A belief that big-hitters such as Richard Levi, Josh Cobb and Pakistan legend Shahid Afridi can fire.

And there is less pressure, with the tag of champions not weighing the players down.

This year, that weight is on the shoulders of the Birmingham Bears, who head to the County Ground on Friday night (start 6.30pm).

And Steelbacks head coach Ripley is hoping they may just be feeling the expectancy the status of holders brings.

“There is a little bit of that,” Ripley said. “The nature of the competition means it’s the most open of all, which is shown by who has won it.

“It’s an even playing field and most teams think they’ve got a good chance of winning it.

“That probably hasn’t gone away by the fact we won it.

“Leicestershire haven’t done so well in the Championship, but they have got a very good record in the competition and it shows that everyone can have their day.

“Warwickshire are one of the favourites having won it last year and they will only have added to their squad when (Brendan) McCullum arrives.”

McCullum is currently engaged in a Test series against England, with his New Zealand team now 1-0 down. But even though the Kiwi star will not be at the County Ground this week, the Bears will still have men capable of making them roar.

Off-spinner Jeetan Patel, another New Zealander, was the leading wicket taker in last season’s T20 competition and the Royal London One-Day Cup, claiming 25 and 23 victims respectively.

And Ripley said: “We don’t want to be giving wickets away to him.

“We might target other bowlers, but we’ll just see.

“If we’ve got a good base - we’ve certainly got people who are able to counter him - we’ll see how it goes.

“We’re not expecting the wicket to turn a great deal.

“It’s going to be a fresh pitch, not played on before, and we asked for a good batting surface, which is what the groundstaff have produced for us in one-day cricket.

“I’m not expecting it to be turning and bouncing through the gate.

“He might be a guy we can score off as freely as any of the others, but of course we’ll give him respect because he’s earned that from his performances.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how we tackle him.”