A “mixed bag” is how Northants head coach David Ripley described their 2020 campaign but his side look well placed to enjoy a positive summer in 2021.
Frequent batting collapses meant Northants were rarely a factor in the Bob Willis Trophy. They only managed to earn three batting bonus points all season – the joint worst of any of the counties – but did at least pick up one victory, against Glamorgan, to ensure that they avoided a last place finish in the Central Group.
Having failed to qualify for the knockout stages in three successive seasons in the T20 Blast, Northants did progress beyond the group stage last summer but they certainly did not make it easy for themselves.
The Steelbacks won their opening four matches to put themselves top of the group, but then lost four in a row and suffered a wash out – meaning they travelled to Edgbaston for their final game for a winner-takes-all showdown with the Birmingham Bears. Despite falling to 53-5 in pursuit of 193 for victory, the Northants lower order produced a remarkable counter attack to get home by 3 wickets with 7 balls left.
They missed out on a return to Birmingham for Finals Day, however, after losing to Gloucestershire in the quarter finals.
The hero of Edgbaston was one of Northants’ new signings for 2021. Tom Taylor was released early from his Leicestershire contract and played in the final two T20s of the season. The all rounder struck a 27-ball 50 to see his side home against the Bears in what was a spectacular way to introduce yourself to a new set of supporters.
Other than Taylor’s arrival, it has been a fairly quiet winter at Wantage Road. Richard Levi has become a local player following changes to the Kolpak arrangement, while Rob Newton and Blessing Muzabarani are among the players to have been released
Ins: Tom Taylor (Leicestershire)
Outs: Rob Newton, Blessing Muzabarani, Tom Sole & Brett Hutton (all released)
Now registered as a local player rather than a Kolpak, Richard Levi will once again be an important player for Northants in all formats this season. The South African opener has been at the club since 2012 and was a key part of both their victorious T20 campaigns.
He formed an excellent opening partnership with Paul Stirling last summer and that was a key reason the Steelbacks made the quarter finals. With the Irishman Stirling not returning to Wantage Road this season, Levi’s runs at the top of the order will be crucial.
One to watch
2021 could well be the breakthrough year for Ben Curran. The middle brother of the Curran family has been in and out of the Northants side since making his debut for the county towards the end of 2018, but last summer saw him given a run in the side. He opened the batting in the Bob Willis Trophy and made three half centuries, including a crucial 82 in the side’s only win of the season against Glamorgan.
Northants have gone down the traditional route with their overseas signing for 2021. Wayne Parnell will be available for all formats all season and looks an excellent signing for the club. He is no stranger to the county scene having spent three seasons at Worcestershire, during which time they lifted the Vitality Blast in 2018 and were beaten in the final by Essex the following year.
He will be joined for the T20s at Wantage Road by Afghan all rounder Mohammad Nabi. Now a regular in the top franchise leagues around the world, Nabi has previously represented Leicestershire & Kent in the Blast. The 35-year old is available for the whole tournament.
How will they fare?
David Ripley has made no secret over the winter that he wants Northants to rediscover themselves in T20 cricket in 2021. The quarter finals last summer was a step in the right direction for a side who made 3 Finals Days in 4 years between 2013 & 2016, lifting the trophy twice. Parnell & Nabi are excellent signings for T20 and with an experienced core featuring the likes of Levi, Josh Cobb & Alex Wakely, Northants should be in the mix for the knockout stages.
After the euphoria of promotion at the end of 2019, Northants took a step backward in the small amount of red ball cricket that was possible last summer. The draw has been reasonably kind to them for the County Championship in 2021, having avoided the likes of Essex & Somerset & Northants’ bowling line-up in red ball cricket spearheaded by Ben Sanderson will make them tricky opponents but their batting must improve for them to be competitive against established Division One opposition.
Opening Fixture: CC v Kent, Wantage Road, 8th-11th April
Season Odds (SkyBet):
County Championship- 33-1
T20 Blast- 14-1
Royal London Cup- 16-1