Rarely do you hear the words Northamptonshire without the prefix “unfancied” when talking about their season prospects, and nothing is going to change on that front this year either. Last season, they languished near the foot of every table of every competition they took part in. Since then they have lost Ben Duckett to Nottinghamshire, Richard Gleeson to Lancashire and Steven Crook to old age. All were mainstays last season and will take some replacing.
Northants have gone some way to replacing them, especially in the overseas signings of West Indian captain Jason Holder for the early part of the season, Temba Bavuma for the later stages of the county championship and Pakistani all-rounder Faheem Ashraf for the Vitality T20 Blast. All will offer the side something different, and while on the books will strengthen the side.
Northants have also signed the wonderfully named Blessing Muzarabani on a Kolpak deal, and will be hoping the highly regarded Zimbabwean quick bowler can replace the wickets of Gleeson on a consistent basis.
As ever, the Steelbacks will be heavily reliant on the runs from their ever dependable and talismanic skipper Alex Wakeley, along with Richard Levi, and in white ball cricket Josh Cobb, who has also been made vice captain of the side.
When it comes to wickets, Ben Sanderson, Nathan Buck and Brett Hutton will be key. They will miss Gleeson for his wickets and likewise Duckett for his runs. They have enough talent and potential in their squad, however, to replace those runs and wickets. In white ball cricket especially they may well upset a few sides, as they have done in the past, and if they get momentum who knows? They may be more fanciable than Mila Kunis or Channing Tatum through beer goggles.
Ins: Blessing Muzarabani (Kolpak)
Outs: Ben Duckett (Nottinghamshire), Richard Gleeson (Lancashire), Steven Crook (Retired), Gareth Wade (Released)
If you want to win games, you have to take wickets and in Ben Sanderson, Northants have a genuine wicket taker. With Gleeson missing for large portions of last season the responsibility fell to Sanderson and he did not disappoint taking 60 wickets at 16.70 in the championship. He was less effective in white ball cricket, where his occasionally off-centre radar affected his economy and average, but no one can deny his effectiveness with red ball in hand. If Northants are to be more successful this season, then his contribution with ball in hand will be key.
Player to Watch
I’m an only child and am glad that I have never had siblings to compare myself against. Ben Curran, on the other hand, has two brothers who have both played for their country. He shouldn’t worry, however. He has a solid technique as a batsman and since he has broken into the first team has shown impressive temperament and run scoring ability. He has scored heavily in pre-season and, if he carries on this form, he will be well worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses. Who’s to say if he does this, we wont see an England squad with three Currans in it before too long?
If Northants do nothing else well, they make some very good overseas signings. This year is no different. Many a division two batsman will not be looking forward to the prospect of facing West Indian captain Jason Holderon early season pitches in the Championship and Royal London One Day Cup. He is a very impressive cricketer and will strengthen the Northants side massively. I’d bet my house on him taking wickets and my garage on him scoring runs, too. He has excellent technique for both and I am looking forward to seeing him play up close and personal in the early season.
As the season progresses and the pitches flatten out, and more runs are available to score, the nuggety Temba Bavumawill arrive at Wantage Road. He’ll slot into the middle order and add real stability to the batting, and could well push them onto greater things.
Bavuma is only available for the Championship, so it’ll fall to Pakistani all-rounder Faheem Ashraf to help propel the Steelbacks to success in the T20 Blast. He scores runs and takes wickets at a good strike rate, and will add real dynamism to the side. The side has yet to announce the second overseas player, but if the first three signings announced are anything to go by, the fourth will make Northants a side to be reckoned with for the Blast.
How they’ll fare
In all reality, it’ll be another season of struggle for Northants. Their squad on paper, despite some impressive overseas signings, looks weaker than last season, and last season was tough for the men from Wantage Road. However, cricket is a funny old game and resilience, team spirit and momentum can take you a long way. Northants have the first two of these in bucket loads. If they can get the latter, then I can see them progressing in one of the white ball competitions this season, but again languishing at the foot of the Championship table.
SSCC Divisions 2 Vs Middlesex at Home Friday 5thApril 11am
SS County Championship Division 2: 25/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: 33/1
Vitality Twenty20 Blast: 20/1