Steelbacks cling on to slim qualification hopes

Richard Levi thrashed a 43-ball 68 at the start of the Steelbacks' innings at Old Trafford
Richard Levi thrashed a 43-ball 68 at the start of the Steelbacks' innings at Old Trafford

The chances may be on the slim side, but Northamptonshire Steelbacks still have a chance of securing a place in the Royal London Cup quarter-finals.

A 19-run defeat of Lancashire at Emirates Old Trafford courtesy of the Duckworth/Lewis method, means that going into their final group game against Essex in seven days’ time, the Steelbacks are one of three sides in with a hope of progression.

It will be a tall order as Essex, second in the standings and in good form, need to be seen off and both Leicestershire and Derbyshire most likely have to lose to Lancashire and Gloucestershire, respectively.

But all of that can wait as, after two hefty drubbings in the north west, Manchester finally offered up something other than a miserable bus trip home.

Having been sent in for a contest that had been reduced to 40 overs following a delayed start, the Steelbacks’ innings was a tale of two halves, well, that isn’t entirely true as it was more like 25 and 75 per cent.

The first quarter belonged emphatically to the visitors, and more specifically Richard Levi who thumped his way to a 31-ball half century in his customary manner.

Forty-six of the 50 was taken on boundaries as a relatively inexperienced home seam attack was treated disdainfully and after the eight-over powerplay, the score was a healthy 64-0.

In collaboration with List A debutant James Kettleborough, the opening stand was advanced to 87 in the 11th over before Levi was well caught on the square-leg boundary as he aimed to plant Jordan Clarke into the former Stretford End stand.

The South African’s demise saw to the end of the 25 per cent and the rest of the innings was Lancashire’s.

With the 16 overs of spin delivered by Stephen Parry, with figures of 3-23, and Steven Croft, 1-29, placing a brake on proceedings, the Steelbacks limped through the middle overs and were unable to provide any sort of acceleration in the final stages.

A succession of poor shots, none worse than Ben Duckett’s switch-hit that picked out short third-man, betrayed a lack of confidence that has permeated through the batting from way back in April.

Just 120 was scored from overs 10-40 and a paltry 77 in the second 20 and the eventual tally of 200-8, given the opening 45 minutes, appeared at least 40 light.

A similar amount of time into the hosts’ reply, however, and the five an over required will have seemed slightly further away.

And it was Maurice Chambers who was the reason for such a transformation.

It wouldn’t be particularly harsh to say that the former Essex man’s stint at the County Ground has been underwhelming but here he showed exactly why his signature had been sought.

In the space of 11 deliveries, Luis Reece, caught at slip, Karl Brown, chipping to short cover, and Paul Horton, chopping on first ball, were sent back.

Usman Khawaja was going along smoothly at the other end and was responsible for all but half of the total of 47-3 when, one ball into the 11th over, play was halted as the forecast rain turned up.

That left Lancashire 20 shy of the revised target and that is how it stayed as play was brought to a premature conclusion.