COMMENT: Northants Steelbacks have reached new low – but axing Ripley isn’t...

COMMENT: Northants Steelbacks have reached new low – but axing Ripley isn’t the answer

Northants Steelbacks celebrating their 2016 Natwest T20 Blast win. Photo courtesy of Youtube, with thanks.

 

Where the T20 Blast once offered Northamptonshire some respite from the woes of the County Championship, this season it has epitomised the growing sense of crisis at the county.

There is, of course, nothing new about the idea of a ‘crisis’ at Wantage Road, even if it feels as though they have reached a new nadir. Like so many others, this is a cricket club battling huge financial constraints and which has done tremendously well against the odds in the shorter formats in recent years.

Surprise trophies in 2013 and 2016 sandwiched another semi-final in 2015. They had become known as the ‘T20 kings’, embarking on a period of success that captain Alex Wakely said was inspired by them becoming “sick of losing”. They could certainly do with a similar shift in mentality now.

Fast forward to the current campaign and Thursday night’s 75-run defeat to an admittedly in-form Durham Jets left the Steelbacks with a solitary point from their opening eight matches. Even that tie, achieved against the Birmingham Bears last month, was steeped in disappointment after a record-breaking first innings in a game they really ought to have won.

Fortune has seemingly been against them. This season might have been an opportunity for Ben Duckett to force himself back into contention for the national side. Instead, since undergoing hand surgery in February, the 23-year-old has rarely been able to produce the batting he is capable of.

In the nine-wicket defeat to Worcestershire a week ago, Northants bowlers found Martin Guptill in the form of his life – it took the New Zealand international just 35 balls to reach his century.

It is little wonder that such pain and frustration has been etched on the face of Wakely, who has himself struggled to contribute with the big innings that have been needed from him.

Amidst all this, the board have offered their backing to head coach David Ripley, who has been associated with Northants for 30 years, both as player and coach.

There is nobody better suited to turning the county’s miserable streak around and yet, it is very difficult to see where they go from here. A change at the top is one solution, six years after Ripley made the step up from the Academy, but suitable replacements who would be interested in the role are surely few and far between.

The leadership team of Wakely and Ripley have stuck by this beleaguered county through the good times and bad. The latter has been praised for giving young players an opportunity and in return, many of them have stayed loyal despite rumoured interest from wealthier sides, particularly in the case of Duckett.

As Northants sit bottom of their group in the Vitality Blast with no hope of reaching the quarter-finals, and second bottom in Division Two of the County Championship, it can be assumed that this season was written off long ago.

Going forward, it is thought the board will be in a better position to invest now the club are on a more stable footing. They are coming to terms with the harsh reality that things just cannot stay as they are, but they would be foolish to include Ripley in any significant changes they make in the close season.

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