Alex Wakely enjoyed a second beginning for his career at Northamptonshire, stepping over the rope and onto the field for the first time in 18 months as he led the county in their opening game of the season against Gloucestershire.
The batsmen snapped his Achilles in the opening match of the pre-season tour in Barbados last year while attempting a quick single and the injury would rule him out for the entire campaign, left to watch on the sidelines as Northants endured a miserable year.
Wakely admitted he had endured some difficult moments during that year, at times doubting if he would ever play again, but is now eager to get back going to prove himself, both as a batsman and a captain, having taken over the reins as Club captain from Stephen Peters.
“I’m fit and strong and I want it more than I’ve ever wanted it before,” he told Deep Extra Cover at Northants’ press day. “I feel like a little kid again coming out of school and starting my career, I’m looking at it as I’ve got a second chance and a second start of my career and I just want to get going again.
“Last year was a real bad one for me, it was horrible, I’ve said it to people before that I went to some pretty dark places during that time, one point when you’re not sure if you’re ever going to cross the line again was pretty bad.”
“I’ve had 18 months without putting these whites on, I’ve had a lot of time to think but ultimately I feel in the best place I’ve been for a long time, I feel physically stronger, mentally I feel better and I reckon I want to prove a few people wrong.”
Coming back from a career threatening injury is tough enough, without the added pressures of taking over as captain but that is what Wakely is facing as Northants opted for a fresh start with Stephen Peters unceremoniously stripped of the captaincy at the end of last summer.
Wakely led Northants to the T20 title in 2013 in his role of limited overs captain, and is confident leadership can help his batting, a record he admitted needs improvement, especially in the four-day game, with only two centuries in 80 first-class matches a poor reflection on his natural ability.
“I love the challenge of it [captaincy], in the past when I’ve done it all the way through school it helps my cricket, gives me another focus, I find it quite nice to be able to balance the captaincy with my own game.
“I haven’t achieved what I wanted to in my career so far, especially in first-class cricket, I want to score big hundreds and ultimately that will help the team win.
“I was pretty happy with the way my white ball stuff was going, it was getting better but my four day stuff felt like I wasn’t really going anywhere.
“I’ve had time to assess that, start working on my plans and start talking to sports psychologists about some of the issues I’ve had but I definitely want to prove it wrong, to start scoring the big hundreds I know I can and other people have been saying I should do.”
After seeing a number of senior players leave at the end of last summer, Wakely admitted there had been a void left in the changing room over the winter, but said it was now time for the clubs younger players to step up and become senior members of the squad.
Northants might have one of the smallest playing staffs, with only 18 players on the books, but Wakely believes there is plenty of talent and potential in the group.
“We’re a very young and inexperienced squad and it’s been a tough winter, we’ve had no senior players to fall back on so some of the things we’ve done in the past, where we’ve had senior players in meetings, we’ve had none of that.
“Ultimately there’s a big gap that’s left, Andrew Hall, David Sales and James Middlebrook were all seriously good players for us over the last few years and it’s now players who were perceived to be inexperienced players, they’re suddenly senior players so it’s for them to step up.
“There’s the obvious challenges that we have got a very small squad but the players we have got, if we can pick the best team we’ve got we’re going to be in a very good position, I love the squad we’ve got.
“There are lots of players, Rob Newton looks the fittest he’s ever looked, Rob Keogh’s a seriously good young player, Ben Duckett, the list goes on, there’s so many talented players in this squad, someone is going to have a breakthrough year.”
With the experienced trio departing and Josh Cobb and Adam Rossington joining the club, along with the signature of Richard Levi on a Kolpak deal, it is clear that Northants are shifting their focus towards the limited overs competitions with Wakely confident about their hopes, and having tasted success in 2013 is eager to lift more trophies for the county.
“You can see the club has gone in a white ball focused direction and for us we’re targeting a home quarter final as a goal, in our four day cricket I want us to get better and better every day but ultimately every time you cross the field you cross it to win.”
“You look at our side and we’re exciting, we’re going to have guys live [Steven] Crook and [Rory] Kleinveldt who could be batting seven or eight and [Shahid] Afridi coming in down there, people who can hit sixes.
“For me the games changed in t20, it’s not about knocking it around and hitting fours, it’s who can hit the most sixes and our side looks pretty geared up to do that.
“I’d love to lift silverware for this club, it would be pretty cool for some of these players to say we’ve won two trophies at this club, no-one’s ever been able to say that before at Northampton so that would be great and ultimately what I’m hoping to do.”