May 10, 2013

'Little' Northants make big statement

With three wins out of four in the Championship has sent shockwaves through Division Two and got supporters discussing promotion

Steven Crook has been one of the stars of Northants' early season surge © Getty Images

Every time I have seen Northamptonshire take to the field in the County Championship this season, I have been pessimistically waiting for a bad day to come. But with four matches played, that bad day has yet to materialise and 'little' Northants sit comfortably at the top of Division Two, nearly 40 points ahead of second-placed Hampshire. Not a bad start for a small fish in a large pond.

Rain ruined any chance of success against Glamorgan in the opening game but the Wantage Road crowd were then left stunned, but delighted, as the county crushed Essex by an innings a week later. Success over a poor Gloucestershire outfit down at Bristol then sent Northants clear at the top of the table as an excellent start to the season was confirmed.

Supporters scratched their heads and looked at each other in the Bristol sunshine as we all wondered whether this was in fact Northants we were watching. Cautious optimism could be felt amongst the faithful - not a feeling we have been used to in recent years.

The best victory was still to come for David Ripley's side as, after two of the four days at Canterbury, a draw looked the most likely result between two evenly matched sides. Northants, and Trent Copeland, had other ideas though and turned on the afterburners to skittle Kent and take the win with a day to spare.

Three wins from the first four games, including two away from home, has sent shockwaves through Division Two and has got supporters discussing whether this could finally be Northamptonshire's year to gain promotion to the paradise of Division One.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of Northants' play in the early part of this season has been their outstanding teamwork. No individual player has saved them in each game but rather all 11 players have chipped in with runs and wickets to put pressure on the opposition.

There must be a mention for Steven Crook who, in his second spell at the club, is proving to be an inspired signing. The former Middlesex man has taken 23 wickets so far this season at an average of just under 16 runs and has led the way for Northants early on in the campaign.

The four-pronged seam attack of David Willey, Crook, Copeland and Andrew Hall is potentially the most dangerous bowling unit Northants have had for many years and all four have consistently taken wickets over the opening four matches, which has meant Northants have usually put themselves in command of a game when bowling first.

Stephen Peters has taken on the captaincy with aplomb this season and has organised his troops effectively whilst also keeping up his good form with the bat, including a delightful century at Canterbury last time out. Along with Copeland, Peters could well be one of the star men for Northants in 2013.

Peters will need to keep an eye on his fellow batsmen though, including David Sales and Rob Newton, both of whom have struggled to make runs early on and the duo will need to pick up their form if they are to retain their places in the batting line-up.

The only other blot on the copybook so far has been the start to the one-day season. White-ball cricket has been a thorn in the Northants side over the past few years and an opening day defeat to Nottinghamshire certainly hasn't raised any hopes of an improved season in the Yorkshire Bank 40 side of the game.

What we as Northants supporters are hoping though is that success will breed confidence and that further victories in the County Championship will help our form in the 40 and 20-over formats. Although that might be being too greedy!

This is, of course, not a time for Northants to be getting ahead of themselves or thinking that promotion is nearly in the bag but there is a real belief growing around the club. The ruthless aggression that they have shown to defeat Essex, Gloucestershire and Kent has been fantastic and if they deliver a similar performance against a floundering Leicestershire side next week, it could be four wins from five.

If this surprising form continues then it really could be a special season.

Ashley Lambell is a passionate supporter of Northampton sides in football, rugby and cricket. He tweets here