Continuing our season reviews, here is an assesment of Northants's campaign.
Championship Division Two - 4th
FP Trophy - 3rd, Midlands Division
Twenty20 Cup - Quarter Finalists
Pro40 Division Two - 9th
If it could have gone wrong for Northamptonshire in 2008, it probably did, as a season that began with high hopes ended in typically desultory fashion, as they failed to win a game in any competition over the final 67 days of the season. Rumours of dissension in the dressing room (rumours that allegedly came with a strong Afrikaans accent) didn’t help as Pretoria-upon-Nene endured another barren season.
If no one could understand what they were saying in the dressing room, it was hardly surprising as there were times when I couldn’t understand what they were doing on the pitch or in terms of team selection.
The County didn’t always help themselves on the field (notably with the suicidal decision to bowl first in the final game of the season, as Middlesex closed the day on 291-1, and a succession of top order collapses) but they were set on the back foot by the ECB’s initial decision to block the registration of Andrew Hall and Johannes van der Wath, found themselves dogged by bad weather and saw their best hope of silverware in years disappear with the toss of the coin under the Chelmsford lights.
Northants began the season in typical style by losing their first two Championship games. In Hall and van der Wath’s absence, they were forced to scramble for an overseas player and came up with Johan Louw, a player who we didn’t really need and one we certainly didn’t need when Hall and van der Wath were finally cleared to play. However, we were stuck with him and ultimately the ECB’s desperation to appease their Indian paymasters cost Northants a lot of money that they could ill afford, a move that will have a long-term impact on the club’s budget.
Promotion in the Championship was always liable to be beyond Northants’ reach but they ultimately sustained a promotion challenge until the penultimate game thanks to a 13-game unbeaten streak. The weather compromised a number of promising positions but an inability to take wickets ultimately cost them. However, all things considered it wasn’t a bad effort although it may be hard to improve upon next season in a division containing Kent, Surrey, Middlesex and Essex.
The chance of glory in the Friends Provident was dashed by a combination of bad luck (Hall and van der Wath’s arrival was delayed by red tape – thanks a bunch Giles Clarke – while Northants finished with more points than two of the eight teams that advanced to the quarter finals) and a rotten performance against Leicestershire on a glorious day where four of the County’s top five amassed 12 runs between them.
The Twenty/20 was there to be won. They started brilliantly, winning four games in a row, and then went off the boil in spectacular fashion, limping into the quarter finals and being drawn away against Essex. Whether the conditions that night were suitable for play is a moot point. Essex won the toss and effectively the match. Although the Eagles played much the better cricket on the day, Northamptonshire’s fate was sealed at the toss – a throwback to the bad old days of September cup finals at Lord’s.
The less said about the Pro 40 the better. Northants lost all six games they played (if the weather had not washed out the game with Kent, the Spitfires would doubtless have won and would have qualified for the playoff ahead of Glamorgan) and were frankly abysmal. Riki Wessels and David Sales provided the lone pockets of resistance in a succession of abject performances as the bowlers captured just 31 of a potential 60 wickets and none of the regular top three managed to average 20 with the bat. The whole thing was a fiasco with Northamptonshire invariably giving the impression that as the ECB had decided to scrap the competition after 2009, there was no point taking it seriously.
At times the batting was brilliant. David Sales, Rob White and Lance Klusener all topped 1,000 runs in the Championship – White enjoyed a breakthrough season after years of frustration – while Niall O’Brien, Stephen Peters and latterly Riki Wessles all scored heavily. O’Brien did a great job after stepping into the opener’s role while Wessels was arguably the County’s most exciting player over the second half of the season. He is still only 22 with the ability to make it to the top. It may be a tad ambitious to predict that a player who spent time in the second team this season could yet play for England after his father, Kepler, played for South Africa and Australia but he has enormous talent.
At other times the batting was abysmal. The old Northamptonshire adage of playing crap shots to crap balls and getting out in crap fashion lives on with White and Wessels as guilty as anyone and there were times when the theory that one wicket brings two was replaced by the Northamptonshire mantra of one brings four.
The fielding was hardly brilliant (there is a place in my nightmares for Sales throwing the ball in from the deep midwicket boundary at The Oval, whereupon Jason Brown sidestepped the ball and White and Nicky Boje dived in each other’s way and allowed it to speed on unhindered to the cover boundary) but the bowling was the area where Northants really fell short.
With the exception of van der Wath in the Championship and Hall in the Twenty/20, the bowlers’ performances fluctuated between iffy and abysmal. David Lucas tried his best and had some success while David Wigley also tried hard but their limitations were clear for all to see. Despite that they both earned new two-year deals.
Hall invariably looked overweight but found the stamina to get through four-over spells in the Twenty/20 while van der Wath was lethal at times. Louw was rubbish – at one stage he was omitted in favour of Wigley – and Klusener’s days as a bowler were clearly over, a fact that made his release easier to understand and deal with.
The spinners disappointed. Boje took 33 wickets and was the pick of the bunch but Panesar did little when he was available (18 wickets in seven games, including 7 in the final match of the season) and Jason Brown was hopeless, claiming just 9 Championship scalps at a cost of almost 80 runs each, a damning statistic that led to his release.
The fact that Northamptonshire claimed the second highest tally of batting points in the country and ranked dead last in the bowling points stakes offers clear testimony as to where the flaws lay at Wantage Road in 2008.
There is hope for the future with Sales, White and Wessels developing into a potent middle order and if Wessels kicks on next year he will replace the departed Klusener’s runs. Seam bowling reinforcements are desperately needed and an overseas pace bowler to partner van der Wath is a priority. The County has purged some of the dead wood from the ranks – retaining Wigley was presumably cheaper than buying a new bowling machine for the nets – and with a little luck and a couple of shrewd signings, next year might just be the year...
Player of the season: Still not sure about this one. Sales and Klusener were typically effective while O’Brien had as good a season as he could have done considering he started off the season uncertain of his place in the team. Rob White finally strung together a season’s worth of decent performances and scored 1,000 runs for the first time while Wessels lit up the skies with some superb hitting in the second half of the season and van der Wath and Hall had their moments. On the grounds that O’Brien was the official County Player of the Year and I can’t bring myself to agree with much that they do, I’ll nominate White for the award.
Most disappointing player: A toss up between Johan Louw and Monty Panesar. A desperation signing after the ECB initially blocked Hall and van der Wath’s registration, Louw did nothing to justify his status as an overseas player and proved to be a total waste of money who couldn’t even get in the side every game. Panesar did little more than upset the balance of the team when he played and was a pale shadow of his former self.
Highlight: The announcement that Sales had signed a new four-year contract and would be staying at Wantage Road was probably as good as it got (thereby ensuring we kept our best player and dashed Ashley Giles’ hopes of signing him into the bargain) although the news of Richard Logan’s release was also good news. On the pitch Rob White’s century to set up victory over Warwickshire in the FPT was pretty impressive as was making it four wins in a row to start the Twenty/20 campaign.
Lowlight: How long have you got? Collapsing to 61-9 in the next 20 over game, getting bombed out for 61 at Southend in the Pro 40, losing the toss and the game in the Twenty/20 at Chelmsford and having to bat in the rain under lights (admittedly we made certain of defeat with a fairly arse performance but in all honesty Australia would have struggled), failing to win a game since July 22, coming bottom of the Pro 40 and losing all six games we played....
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