Lancashire 160 for 2 (Davies 75*) beat Northamptonshire 157 for 7 by eight wickets
After the rare taste of defeat against Birmingham Bears, normal service resumed as Lancashire Lightning eased home with nine balls to spare on a night on which one sensed they would not have broken into a sweat even had the temperature been 10 degrees warmer.
With Alex Davies dominating with a masterful 75 at the top, finding the boundary 10 times but impressing also with some skilful shot placement backed up with superb running between the wickets, the absence of their leading scorer, Glenn Maxwell, through a minor hamstring injury was barely noticed.
Supported with vigour by Liam Livingstone at the start, with measured calm by Steven Croft through the middle overs and improvisation by Dane Vilas at the end, Davies underlined the depth of resources in the current Lightning squad that sees them with a five-point cushion at the top of the North Group, albeit from a match more than everyone else.
Adam Rossington (40) and Dwaine Pretorius (38) top scored as the Steelbacks posted 157 for 7 but even on a used pitch that gave the slow bowlers something to work with there was a never even a hint of a wobble from their opponents, who surely have one foot in the quarter-finals, not least with Maxwell set to return for Friday’s game against Birmingham.
Northamptonshire are not completely out of the picture, even in eighth place, but they will have to go some to qualify from here.
What had been shaping up as a pretty decent powerplay for the home side stalled rather dramatically after a bemused Richard Levi, aiming to chip into the legside field, was caught at third man off a leading edge in the fourth over. Adam Rossington worked a four off his hips in the same over to take the total to 37 for 1 after four but Richard Gleeson conceded only three in the fifth over and Saqib Mahmood just a single in the sixth, in which the Steelbacks lost another big wicket when Josh Cobb holed out to deep square leg without scoring.
Lancashire, who had won the toss and fancied there would be something in the conditions for their bowlers after a miserably wet day, then took the pace off and put the squeeze on some more before Rossington and Alex Wakely eased the pressure with a boundary each as Northamptonshire reached the halfway stage at 69 for 2.
On a slow pitch against disciplined bowling, the Steelbacks struggled to build any momentum, picking up only a couple of boundaries in the next five overs. A full swing of the bat from Wakely sent the ball over the rope at deep midwicket, but in the same over of an impressive spell of legspin by Livingstone came another setback as Rossington failed to clear the fielder at long-on.
Livingstone cleverly bowled Wakely in his next over to finish with a tidy two for 24 before Rob Keogh and Pretorius gave the innings some belated substance with a flurry of big blows, the latter walloping Matt Parkinson for consecutive legside sixes on his way to 38 off 22 balls before the legspinner thudded the next delivery into his pads.
The two had added 52 in five overs, most of them in a furious assault against Mahmood and Parkinson that accrued 37 in 12 deliveries. But James Faulkner tightened things up again with a superb final over that conceded only four and claimed two more wickets as he finished with 3 for 36.
Needing just under eight an over to overhaul the Steelbacks and claim their sixth win after three no-results in their first 10 matches, Lancashire could not have asked for a more emphatic statement of intent from their openers than Davies provided by smashing the first three balls of Ben Sanderson’s opening over to the rope.
Livingstone took up the gauntlet, needing little time to loosen up as lofted three of his first nine deliveries for six and though he was out looking for a fourth, well caught at deep mid-wicket, Lancashire were ahead of the game at 55 for 1 after the powerplay, even though the Steelbacks dragged the rate back a little in overs five and six.
The torrent of boundaries had dwindled to a trickle as Lightning reach the halfway point at 83 for 1 after some largely tidy work by Graeme White and Keogh but Davies and Croft were content with ones and twos with wickets in hand and the scoring ahead of the required rate.
Davies took advantage of a couple of loose deliveries from White to raise his boundary count to eight as he passed 50 in 38 balls before Faheem Ashraf checked Lancashire’s progress a little by yorking Croft in an excellent over that went for just two singles.
But Davies continued to play splendidly, rarely passing up the opportunity for an easy boundary that came his way all too often and never keen to settle for singles if a two was available as the target came down to 34 off the last five.
By now, the Steelbacks’ heads had dropped as Vilas warmed to the task and chopped Sanderson away twice through the offside before the game ended in a manner that aptly reflected the crumbling nature of the home side’s cricket as Vilas swatted away a Nathan Buck full toss which Wakely’s misfield at deep backward square turned into the winning boundary.
Temba Bavuma ruled out of first Australia T20I with hamstring strain
Temba Bavuma has been ruled out of South Africa’s T20 series opener against Australia this Friday with a hamstring strain.
Bavuma sustained the injury while fielding against England at SuperSport Park on Sunday and will requite seven to 10 days rest. He will remain with the South African squad with a view to playing as early as this Sunday, in Port Elizabeth.
Bavuma’s diagnosis means that South Africa will go into the match one of the aspects of their game that worked best against England – their opening pair. Bavuma shared stands of 92, 48 and 84 with Quinton de Kock and started South Africa’s innings with intent.
With no replacement named in the squad, it is unclear who will join de Kock at the top of the order. Jon-Jon Smutshas some experience in the role, having opened in his first eight T20I innings, while Faf du Plessis has spent the last two IPL seasons at the top of the Chennai Super Kings order. Rassie van der Dussen, Heinrich Klaasen and the uncapped Pite van Biljon are alternative options.
Du Plessis, who stepped down from the captaincy on Monday, makes a return to the squad along with Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje after being rested from the England white-ball matches as South Africa look to continue experimenting with combinations ahead of the T20 World Cup later this year.
AB de Villiers, who is set to make a comeback at the event, is not involved in these matches but could play for South Africa after the IPL.
Ajaz Patel’s return signals an overhaul in New Zealand’s spin plans
The big news in the New Zealand Test squad, apart from the post-injury comeback for Trent Boult, was the return to the arena for 31-year-old left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel in place of Mitchell Santner. It’s a good change, as far as former batting coach Craig McMillan is concerned, because Patel “can pick up four or five wickets in a Test match”. As for Patel, he is just excited at the prospect of facing off against “some of the best in the world”.
“Mitchell Santner, over a period of time, has done a holding role for New Zealand. And that’s down quite often to the conditions in New Zealand that aren’t really conducive to have the ball turning much. It’s the seamers who do all the damage and take most of the wickets,” McMillan, who finished up with the team after the 2019 50-over World Cup, told Radio Sport.
Gary Stead, the New Zealand head coach, had welcomed Patel’s inclusion when the squad was announced, saying, “It’s a slight change in role we’re looking in terms of that position being one where we can take wickets and focus hard on that.”
McMillan liked what he heard from Stead: “It’s good to hear, because Ajaz Patel is better than being just a holding spinner. He’s got over 230 first-class wickets [235 in 62 matches], so he knows how to bowl in New Zealand. So I hope they use him in an attacking role. They need to have a spinner who can pick up four or five wickets in a Test match. And Ajaz Patel is certainly a guy who could do that. So I thought it was encouraging to hear, and it will be interesting to see how they use him, because that’s one of the keys, when you have spinners in your side, it’s the time to use them and how to use them.
“I feel my game’s pretty adaptable. So I’m going to just see what the conditions are and what the scenario and situation is and try to play to that”
“I hope they give him the opportunity to continue bowling how he does at the domestic level at the international level, because I think he can do a really good job, pick up wickets and be really useful in that New Zealand Test side.”
Patel has played only seven Test matches since his debut in 2018, five of them in Asian conditions and only two in New Zealand, where the stress has been on pace with Santner trying to keep things tight without really being much of an attacking option. In the last 12 months, Santner has played one Test in Sri Lanka, two at home against England, and two in Australia, and picked up only five wickets in those games at an average of 96.80. The other spinners in the mix have been Todd Astle, who has since retired from red-ball cricket, and Will Somerville, who both played the New Year’s Test in Sydney on the back of an illness crisis in the squad.
Back in the scheme of things now, Patel is looking forward to going up against Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and the rest of the mighty India batting line-up.
“It’s a fantastic challenge. I suppose as a spinner, testing yourself against some of the best players in the world, it’s a great challenge and it’s something that you should, really, enjoy and cherish,” he said. “At the end of the day, I suppose, at some point in my career, I want to be known as the best in the world. So to be able to challenge some of the best in the world, it’s a great opportunity and a challenge, something that I look forward to.”
Whether he gets that chance or not depends on the Basin Reserve pitch. If it’s green, as McMillan pointed out, “perhaps playing a fourth seamer, which means Kyle Jamieson might get a run”.
Patel understands that. “I suppose it depends on the surface and the scenarios of the game,” he said of the role he expects to play. “Either way, I am going to try and contribute in any way that I can, whether it be with the ball, with the bat, in the field. If it requires me to try and take wickets, then I’m going to try to do that, if it requires me to try and restrict runs, then I’ll try and do that. I feel my game’s pretty adaptable. So I’m going to just see what the conditions are and what the scenario and situation is and try to play to that.
“The Basin could be quite interesting, I suppose. It depends on what kind of day it is and what kind of week you get. If you get a nice, sunny week, the wicket dries up pretty quickly. Although if there’s a bit of overcast conditions, that can be a bit different as well. And obviously you have the wind factor. There’s a lot of things you’ve got to think about at the Basin, but once again, it’s kind of adapting your game to whatever presents itself, and that’s probably one of the great things about Test cricket. You get different challenges thrown at you and you have to learn to adapt.”
What could have gone against Santner, apart from just his own moderate returns, was the fact that even as he picked up just one wicket in two Tests on the December 2019 tour of Australia, Nathan Lyon topped the wicket-takers’ chart with 20 wickets in three Tests, all of which Australia won.
Did that show up Santner, as well as New Zealand’s use with their frontline spinner? “I think it did in many ways,” McMillan agreed. “[Santner’s numbers] sort of stands out in itself, because his core role in the side is to pick up wickets as a spinner, not as a batsman. And he was getting picked in the side to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And New Zealand, with the bowling line-up they’ve got, need a spinner who can contribute four or five wickets a Test match, which just takes some pressure off the likes of [Tim] Southee, [Neil] Wagner and Boult.”
Dimitri Mascarenhas signs two-year deal with Middlesex as T20 bowling coach
Dimitri Mascarenhas has signed a two-year deal to stay on as Middlesex’s specialist T20 bowling coach.
Mascarenhas, whose arrival at the county last summer coincided with an upturn in results in short-form cricket, has held several coaching roles since his retirement from the game in 2014, including stints with New Zealand, Otago, Melbourne Renegades and Otago.
He will also be an assistant coach to Shane Warne in the Hundred next season, staying at Lord’s alongside Eoin Morgan following the Blast to work with London Spirit.
“Dimi’s laid back, calm persona is a great asset and his coaching style reflects this trait,” said Stuart Law, Middlesex’s director of cricket.
“He has simple methods that resonate well with the boys and allows the players to grow, while guiding them through. We’re really looking forward to working with Dimi again during the T20 Blast campaign this season.”
Middlesex reached the knock-out stages of the Blast for only the second time since winning the competition in 2008 last season, with their five-man bowling attack coming to the fore.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman has signed to return as an overseas player, while the Cricketer magazine has reported that Law hopes to sign an allrounder alongside him, with Mitchell Marsh one possible target. AB de Villiers is unlikely to return, with the Blast directly following the IPL season and workload management a concern ahead of a potential international comeback in time for the T20 World Cup.
“I loved my time last year and felt we made some progress on the bowling front and as a team,” said Mascarenhas. “The opportunity to work with Stu Law and Nic Pothas, two international-level coaches, is extremely exciting and brilliant for my development.
“The squad is very similar to last season and I’m sure we can make a huge play for the finals again. I can’t wait to join up with the squad and continue what we started last year.”
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