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Quite what is in store for Northamptonshire in 2013 is anybody's guess but with a new coach at the helm and after a second-bottom finish last time around, the only way is up for players and supporters at the Wantage Road.
Head Coach David Ripley takes charge of his first full season and is tasked with the challenge of delivering the promotion the club has craved for so many years and needs in order to develop into a first-class county side. Despite losing important members of the squad in Jack Brooks and Niall O'Brien to Yorkshire and Leicestershire respectively, Northants moved swiftly to bring in all-rounder Matthew Spriegel from Surrey and Australian international seamer Trent Copeland to bolster their ranks.
After missing out on promotion by a single point in 2011, Northants had expected to use 2012 as a springboard to Division One but all didn't quite go according to plan. With too many drawn matches at home and with not a single victory to their name on the road, Northants struggled to make any sort of impression on the division last season and will know they have to do better this time around.
Batting collapses were a frequent problem for Northants in 2012 so the middle-order axis of David Sales, Alex Wakely and Andrew Hall will have a massive part to play if the team is to be successful in the upcoming season. Indeed, Hall missed large chunks of last season through injury but if Northants can keep him fit and in-form then he could prove a vital weapon in their arsenal as they aim for promotion.
The appointment of the ever-reliable opening batsman Stephen Peters as captain seems to be a shrewd move if Hall continues to be hampered by injury and it is hoped that the opener will bring a calmness to a Northants side which loses its cool more than it doesn't.
Ripley must also find a successful way of bleeding his new faces into the squad without squeezing out some of the more experienced campaigners but it will be good to see a Northants head coach heading into the season with some selection headaches.
Alex Wakely has been named captain for the one-day formats but as a club, we have seemed to find the CB40 a nightmare competition, often struggling to get off the bottom of the table, so don't expect that to change this season as it just isn't a format that seems to suit the Steelbacks.
The T20 has provided some good memories for the club in recent times and with Australian big-hitter Cameron White coming back for a second consecutive T20 season, many are confident that the Steelbacks can do impressive things in the shorter format this time around. Certainly, the loss of a number of home T20 matches last season due to the weather had negative impacts on the club's financial situation so there are hopes for sunnier and drier matchdays this year.
Northants had appeared to be progressing in the right direction for a number of years but 2012 was a major setback for everyone at the club but one that should not dent our hopes and ambition for the future. If we can start the season with some good results, then I'm confident that we have the players to keep that going through the rest of the season and that the good days might be returning once again.
Likely Championship side
Steven Peters, Rob Newton, Kyle Coetzer, David Sales, Alex Wakely, Andrew Hall, David Murphy, James Middlebrook, David Willey, Con De Lange, Trent Copeland
What I love
I love the fact that Northants place an importance on producing good quality local youngsters and breed them through their academy. Young bowler Olly Stone is the next one to look out for.
What I'd change
I would love to see some redevelopment of Wantage Road. If we could bring the stadium up to Division One standard, I feel the team would follow suit.
Ashley Lambell is a passionate supporter of Northampton sides in football, rugby and cricket. He tweets hereFeeds: Ashley Lambell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ashley Lambell's interest in cricket goes back to the early 2000s, when he watched a touring South Africa side play at Northampton. As a child of the town, he is passionate about the football, rugby and cricket sides, and keen to see the glory days of old return to Northants. He has previously written for Bolton Wanderers FC and Northampton Saints RFC. @ashlambell