Northamptonshire 2015 preview April 5, 2015

Northants freshened up, have chance of atonement

Ben Duckett could have a breakthrough season in 2015 © Getty Images

Last season
County Championship: 9th Div 1; NatWest Blast: 7th north group; Royal London Cup: 6th group A

IN: Josh Cobb (Leicestershire), Adam Rossington (Middlesex), Richard Levi
OUT: David Sales, Matthew Sprigel (both retired), Andrew Hall, James Middlebrook (both released), James Kettleborough (Glamorgan)
OVERSEAS: Rory Kleinveldt, Shahid Afridi

2014 in a nutshell
Miserable. 2013 was one of the best season's in the club's history with promotion in the Championship and a fairytale T20 title. But they came crashing back down to earth in their first season in Division One since 2004. They copied that year by finishing bottom but this time didn't even win a match and were beaten by an innings in eight matches. The axe was wielded at the end of the season with several senior players leaving the club, including the top two run-scorers in the Championship. Chief executive David Smith also departed in the autumn. There was no respite in the NatWest Blast where they put up a weak defence of their title, winning their first two matches but only two more.

2015 prospects
The club management stated their desire to rebuild with a young, primarily home-grown squad, and there are a few names to offer encouragement. David Willey was mentioned in England terms after a superb 2013 and others like Rob Newton, Olly Stone and Ben Duckett suggest there are a few youngsters coming through at Wantage Road. The signings of Josh Cobb from Leicestershire and Adam Rossington from Middlesex adds two more promising young faces to the squad while South African Richard Levi provides international experience and commitment to Northants after agreeing a Kolpak deal. Alex Wakely will be like a new signing after missing the whole of 2014 with an Achilles injury. Shahid Afridi and Rory Kleinveldt will boost their T20 chances.

Power brokers
Since taking over in the second half of the 2012 season, David Ripley has coached Northants to two memorable seasons for very different reasons but despite last season's stinker, he still a vibrant squad to work with. Included in that is Alex Wakely, a Northants' academy product who now takes up the captaincy across all formats, inheriting the four-day job from Stephen Peters, who remains with the club as a batsman.

Key player
For just a 19-year-old, Ben Duckett was perhaps one of the only Northants players to emerge from 2014 with some credit. He made his maiden Championship century and fives fifties, and got his side home in a superb T20 chase at Headingley, to suggest he had the game to cope with Division One attacks. Back in Division Two, and with Rossington taking his mind off wicketkeeping, Duckett has the chance for a breakthrough season.

Bright young thing
Olly Stone is a highly-regarded fast bowler who took the best figures ever returned by an England Under-19 bowler in a youth Test with 11 for 79 against South Africa two years ago. He has enjoyed a sprinkling of first team action and picked up a maiden five-wicket haul in first-class cricket in the final match of last season against Sussex. He is just the young home-grown talent Northants want to take the club forward.

ESPNcricinfo verdict
With the squad freshened up, and assuming the horrors of last season have been cast aside, Northamptonshire have a squad talented enough to mount another challenge for promotion. In David Willey, Steven Crook and Azharullah, they still have a core of the attack that took them up in 2013 and if their young batsman can deliver this season, there is every chance that Northants can atone for last year.

Bet365 odds: Championship Div 2: 8-1, T20 Blast: 25-1, Royal London Cup: 20-1

Alex Winter is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo He tweets here

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