Just like two years ago Northamptonshire arrive at Edgbaston for Finals Day as the outsiders; the unfancied little county against the big boys, but in 2013 they dominated both the semi-final and the final and, after crushing Sussex in the quarter-final, will be confident of their chances of upsetting the odds once again.
Their competition hopes looked to be fading fast after three successive defeats at the start of the North group campaign, but they soon found momentum and only lost one of the next nine fixtures to surge up the table and secure third place in the group.
There have been no standout players, with nobody inside the top ten run scorers or wicket takers. Indeed Mohamemd Azharullah is joint 21st in wickets with 15, but what they have instead is a team full of match winners and players capable of making major contributions.
The 2013 triumph was built around a solid top five, but their side looks to have much more depth about it this time around, especially in the batting. Rory Kleinveldt at number nine is capable of the spectacular, such as his 12 ball 41 at Worcestershire.
After his century and three wickets everyone’s eyes will be on David Willey, but Northants are far from a one man team, indeed Willey missed half the group stage on England duty and then injury, but that didn’t stop the Steelbacks marching on, the side only losing one of six games in his absence.
Alex Wakely’s side have only used 15 players throughout the competition, nine of which have played in 12 or more games, as their small close knit squad has in the large avoiding serious injuries, Willey apart. However, the demands of a long campaign are taking its toll and Steven Crook, Graeme White and Adam Rossington are all battling to make Edgbaston.
They face Birmingham in the semi-final after twice losing to the Bears, but with both matches going down to the final ball will be confident of going that extra step to gain victory.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The Steelbacks batting line-up contains plenty of power hitting throughout the order, from one of the most explosive opening partnerships in David Willey and Richard Levi, the inform Josh Cobb and Ben Duckett following, while the likes of Steven Crook, if fit, and Rory Kleinveldt provide great depth in the lower end of the order.
Northants’ big strength, with both bat and ball, has been at the end of the innings, often scoring at more than 10 an over in the last five, whilst Kleinveldt and Mohammed Azharullah have proved effective at the death with the ball, both to limit total and when defending, with three successful last over defences.
While their batting has the potential, it has proved inconsistent at times. Slow bowling is a weakness, especially with doubts over Graeme White’s fitness. If he doesn’t make it, the Steelbacks will be left with just the part timer off spin of Josh Cobb and Rob Keogh.
The fitness struggles of White, Steven Crook and Adam Rossington are far from the ideal preparation for David Ripley’s side and if one or more fail to make it, the depth of the squad could be shown up.
The star man from the quarter final, it’s hard to look beyond David Willey as Northants’ main man. The 40 ball century against Sussex showcased his power with the bat, while his bowling has seen him included in the England ODI squad this year, not forgetting his electricness in the field.
The 25-year-old loves the big stage: who could forget his memorable final in 2013? On what will be one of his final appearances for the County before moving to Yorkshire, the Northampton born all-rounder will be determined to sign off from the Steelbacks in the best possible style.
Previous Finals Day Appearances
This Saturday will be Northants third appearance at Finals Day, both coming at Edgbaston. In 2009 they were comfortably beaten by seven wickets by Sussex in the semi-final. However two years ago they returned to Edgbaston in style, beating Essex by seven wickets before thrashing Surrey by 92 runs to lift the trophy for the first time.
Road to Finals Day
3rd in North Group: P14 W7 L5 T0 NR2, Pts 16 NRR +0.115
Quarter-Final: Northants Steelbacks 166/3 (Willey 100) beat Sussex Sharks 165/7 (Nash 53, Jayawardene 50; Willey 3/27) by seven wickets, at Hove
Northants face an anxious wait to see whether Steven Cook, Adam Rossington and Graeme White will pass fitness tests on Thursday. Olly Stone is likely to come in should Crook and White not make it, while Kyle Coetzer would replace Rossington.
Richard Levi, David Willey, Josh Cobb, Ben Duckett, Alex Wakely, Steven Cook, Adam Rossington, Rob Keogh, Rory Kleinveldt, Graeme White, Mohammed Azharullah.
To beat Birmingham: 5/4
To win tournament: 7/2
2015 Tournament Stats
Top run scorer: Richard Levi 406 @ 31.23
Top wicket taker: Mohammed Azharullah 15 @ 22.46
Total wickets: 77
Total runs: 2066