With the English domestic county cricket season getting underway last weekend, Northants’ Rob Keogh is looking for a positive promotion-chasing season.
Despite being injured for their first game of the season, Keogh’s side managed a draw in his absence in a rain-affected game against Sussex as Ben Duckett hit an unbeaten, career-best 282.
Keogh’s 2015 season rather mirrored that of his side as they lost just one of their opening eight Division Two games but won just one in the latter half of the season.
The all-rounder’s season was not plain sailing as 647 runs in the first half of the season was shadowed by just 203 in the second, whereas he took 19 wickets, 12 of which were in the back half of the campaign.
This season it will all be about consistency for the Dunstable-born cricketer who is looking to top the 1000-run mark in 2016.
“Personally I always look at the 1000 run mark, I should have got it last year but as a batter that’s what most players look for, bowling wise I think I’m still learning and I would be happy with 25 wickets after 19 last year,” Keogh said.
The 24-year-old acknowledges he went through a tricky patch during the second half of 2015 but believes he’s good enough to turn it around going into 2016.
“I think the season is long and most people go through stages of not scoring many runs, I went through a tricky patch where I got a few good balls and bad decisions then you start to panic about form and think about technique,” Keogh explained.
“That’s when you start dropping in performance, it happens to everyone and I think I’ve learnt a lot from that tough time and to trust my game and know that I’m good enough to turn it around.”
To try and avoid a repeat of 2015 and to try and improve consistency, Keogh says the hard work really starts in January.
“Training in the off season depends on the individual, some guys decide to go away and play cricket abroad.
“If you stay around the ground we are in most days training and in the gym, anything before Christmas is optional but most of the guys choose to hit and work their technique over this time of the year and January onwards is when the hard work starts preparing for the season.
“I’ve been to Australia to play four times, it helps you to learn different styles of the game, get games under your belt and from a different point of view helps you grow as a person off the field, you don’t know anyone, you’re on your own so it helps you in different aspects of life too.”
Although the hard work starts when the calendar strikes a new year the Northamptonshire man says that thoughts for next season can start months earlier.
“Thoughts for the new season sometimes start towards the end of the previous season depending on the individual or what sort of things you have to work on, most of the time they start around November as we have October off to catch up with family and friends and to let the body recover,” Keogh said.
“Before Christmas training is usually based on fitness more so than cricket.
“Fitness is always important throughout the year it’s what keeps you on the pitch so it’s always worked on whenever we can.”
Keogh, whose dad is chairman of his local club Dunstable Town, has also noticed changes in the winter training programme from when he first joined.
“Eating habits have changed, it’s crucial like in other sports but it’s slowly going more that way, it’s a long season and food gives energy so they like to see us eat well, “he continued.
The middle-order batsman made two fifties and two centuries during the first half of the season with a top score of 163*, whereas his top score in the second half of the season was just 45, including 11 scores of 20 and under opposed to just four in the first eight games.
However Keogh’s bowling was by far the highlight of the second half of the season, taking 12 wickets at an average of 51.
The off-spinner knew he would get his chance to bowl eventually due to the lack of spin options in the Northants side.
“With not having an out-and-out spinner in the side I knew that I was going to get more overs in,” Keogh added.
“I had worked hard in the winter in Sydney on my bowling, working with Sydney Sixers, New South Wales and also bowling at the international sides that were training for the World Cup.
“Bowling in the same net as Nathan Lyon and bowling at the likes of [AB] De Villiers, [Hashim] Amla and more international players helped my bowling so much.”
For the Bedfordshire-born player it all started when he was just seven years old at his local cricket club in his home town of Dunstable.
“My first experience of playing would of been when I played for Dunstable’s 4th team to make up the numbers, I was only seven at the time, batted 11 and didn’t bowl but actually got in and ended getting 2*, they let me get a couple!” Keogh reminisced.
“I got into cricket because of my Dad, he played for Dunstable as a lad and when I was old enough to go down and watch I did and got into playing it myself.
“There were other boys around my age and we all used to get together and go down and watch and play around in the nets.”
Ten years after his Dunstable debut, Keogh realised he could make cricket into a career.
“I realised I could turn my cricket into a career at the age of 17, I was involved at Northants from about 13 but never really thought much of it, I was playing for Luton at football too so up until 15 or 16 that was my priority,” the all-rounder said.
“Then when I was around 16 I decided to give up football and try to give cricket my all, I then got onto the academy at Northants and made my 2nd XI debut against Kent, that’s when it hit home that’s what I want to do and I’ve got a good chance of making it.”
From there Keogh was rushed into his first-team debut live on Sky Sports in a Clydesdale Bank 40 over game against Yorkshire in June 2012.
“My first team debut was against Yorkshire in the CB40 on Sky Sports, I was down to do 12th man but Mal Loye went down injured in the warm up just before the start,” he said.
“I got called over and told I was going to open the batting and the game started in 15 minutes, I didn’t have much time to prepare so just called dad and got my kit on and went out to bat.”
The makeshift opener was tested by former England bowlers Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad before being dismissed by fellow spinner Adil Rashid for 11.
Keogh then had to wait three years for his first hundred, where he scored 221 against Hampshire, betting for more than six hours.
From then onwards, Keogh has kept the same routine before matches.
“My first hundred was against Hampshire as it turns out I actually got 221, I had played a few games for the first team before that but my highest score was 44 in Championship cricket,” Keogh continued.
“The week before, I got 60 off 40 balls in the CB40 game against Warwickshire so I knew I was in good touch, we were 15-3 when I went in against Hampshire at five so had nothing to lose.
“At the age of 21 it was something special.
“I always stick to my preparation plan for every game now, the same routine every game before warm ups with kit and throw downs, just little superstitions that most professionals have.”
For the Northants team promotion is the aim this year according to Keogh, despite the loss of England star David Willey to Division One side Yorkshire.
“I think with getting to two T20 finals in the past three years we will definitely be looking to winning it again and with the talent we have in the squad we should be looking at promotion to Division One too,” he continued.
“David is an exceptional cricketer, he showed that for us for years and also now with England.
“But we didn’t actually see him a lot this season and we got to the final of the T20, he won us the quarter-final in Brighton with an amazing 100 off just 40 balls but before then he wasn’t playing or other lads did the business.
“Of course everyone will miss a cricketer like Dave but it’s not the end of the world for us with the talent we have on the staff.”
Looking into the future, Keogh is under no illusions to where his ultimate goal lies.
“Any player that plays the game wants to play for their country; there is something wrong if they don’t.
“At this time in England cricket anyone who has a good year will be noticed.
“It’s baby steps for most cricketers but everyone still has the ambition and life goal.”
After a frustrating draw in their season opener, Northants head to Essex next Sunday to try and earn their first win of 2016.