After the disastrous 2014 campaign, a summer of stability was desperately needed in 2015 and Alex Wakely’s side delivered that and much more, as they reached a second t20 final in three years.
Although they fell short of repeating their 2013 t20 title by losing out to Lancashire in the final, reaching that stage was an excellent achievement for a squad that is small, but full of talent and potential.
With focus placed on white ball cricket ahead of the campaign, a fifth-placed finish in Division Two of the Championship also reflects a decent campaign, although they never threatened for promotion as Surrey and Lancashire ran away with the promotion places.
In fact, mid-table accurately sums up a campaign in which they were the draw specialists with ten stalemates out of 16 encounters, with three wins and three defeats, which also showed a season of ups and downs especially with the bat.
The heavy defeats at Glamorgan and Gloucester were both based in batting failures, whilst on the other hand Kent were twice thumped with convincing bowling displays. The Championship season was rather summed up in the final week at the Oval, bowled out for 110 in the first innings before posting 514 in the second when following on, their lowest and highest totals of the season.
The t20 campaign on the other hand showed that once more Northants have the capability to mix it with the bigger counties and beat them, almost going all the way. However three games in it looked a different story with three defeats, but Wakely’s men would only lose two of the remaining 11 fixtures as they combined a dynamic batting line up with good death bowling.
A mixture of making tricky run chases look easy and winning games at the death with the ball marked their group stage turnaround, finishing third in the North group, with a combined team display, rather than any one standout performer.
However the route to the final became the David Willey show, as the England all-rounder smashing a 40-ball century to make light work of Sussex in the quarter-final before his early three wicket burst dampened Birmingham Bears’ home Finals Day before it had hardly began.
Faced with a surging Lancashire in the final, Willey couldn’t repeat his heroics from 2013 and Northants came up short, as a habit of leaking runs with the new ball proved costly, as did the lack of any major innings in the run chase, but still Northants can be proud of their efforts in the competition.
On the back of such a successful t20 season the One-Day Cup was something of a disappointment, where they never really clicked into gear after losing three of their first four, including a 220-run pummelling by Surrey at the Oval.
Although good displays with the ball spearheaded a three match winning run, including the remarkable game at New Road where they recovered from 19-6 to then defend 129, the batting was never convincing and they were denied a quarter-final decider by the Leeds rain, eventually missing out on run-rate.
The squad evolution that started last winter is set to continue, with the experience of Stephen Peters and Kyle Coetzer moving on, whilst David Willey rise to stardom has led to the enviable move to Yorkshire. However Josh Cobb, who played in every game in all formats proved a more than handy addition and Rory Kleinveldt was an old fashioned overseas pro, playing the whole season and proving more than effective.
Together with a band of youngsters who will be another year older and wiser, if Northants can find room in the budget to make a couple more signings, there could be more to come from them in 2016.
LVCC: 5th, Division Two
T20 Blast: Runners up (3rd, North Group)
RLODC: 5th, Group A Leading run-scorer: Ben Duckett, 1,478 runs
Leading wicket-taker: Rory Kleinveldt, 79 wickets
Win %: 34%
Player of the Season
Ben Duckett had to wait for his chance in 2015 having missed the pre-season tour due to fitness issues, however once the 20-year-old’s chance came in mid-May he grabbed it with both hands, especially in the Championship where, thrown in as a makeshift opener, he hit four hundreds, including a career best 154 against Derbyshire, often standing up with resistance in difficult times.
His tally of 1,002 first-class runs saw him become the first Northants player past that mark in five years, whilst he is also the youngest in the country to do so in 2015.
Olly Stone had shown glimpses of his potential in 2014, but injuries had restricted the young fast bowler to only a handful of appearances. However he was able to stay fit this year, playing in 13 of Northants Championship matches and impressed in taking 38 wickets at 30.68, including a maiden five-wicket haul with 5/44 against Kent.
Only 21, Stone has genuine pace, as televised games have shown him hitting the 90mph mark. That pace sometimes saw him be expensive with the white ball, but his accuracy should improve with experience, whilst Stone was rewarded with a call up to the England performance program this winter.
Could have done better
With the release of James Middlebrook at the end of last season, Graeme White was left as the only frontline spinner at Northants, but the 28-year-old made little impact in a frustrating year. Restricted to just three games in the Championship as Northants opted for the part-time spin of Rob Keogh to go alongside the pace attack, his white ball bowling was also restricted early on with Shahid Afridi’s prescene, and whilst the One-Day Cup did provide more opportunities, White was unable to make much impression and out of contract it remains to be seen if he’ll be retained.
Need to work on
With a young squad it is perhaps understandable that Northants suffered from inconsistency at times, and especially in the Championship.
The season also showed two major issues with their red ball cricket; firstly the lack of a frontline spinner: Rob Keogh did a decent job but is yet to convince as a genuine all rounder.
The opening slot is also a problem, further highlighted by the retirement of Stephen Peters. Ben Duckett took his chance at the top but it remains to be seen if he can do the job long term, whilst Richard Levi, Kyle Coetzer, Rob Newton and David Murphy all opened at different times with little success.
Tweet of the Season
Another season done. Very proud of this club and the group of players that have given everything all year. Well done. Beers well earned! 😀🍻👍
— Alex Wakely (@AlexWakely1) September 25, 2015
Overall, a very satisfactory season at Wantage Road. Despite falling just short in the Natwest t20 Blast, reaching a second final in three years was an excellent achievement for the small squad, whilst a mid-table finish in the Championship represents a decent campaign. 7.5/10