County previews April 4, 2016

Northants bowling reserves dangerously thin

Olly Stone pulls off a spectacular catch at Hove in the NatWest Blast quarter-final Mike Hewitt / © Getty Images

Director of cricket: David Ripley

Captain: Alex Wakely

Last season:

Specsavers Championship: 5th Div 2; NatWest Blast: Final; Royal London Cup: 5th in Group A

In: Richard Levi, Ben Sanderson, Monty Panesar.

Out: David Willey (Yorkshire), Stephen Peters (retired), Kyle Coetzer, Maurice Chambers (both released)

Overseas: Rory Kleinveldt, Seekkuge Prasanna (T20, possibly more).

2015 in a nutshell

To reach T20 Finals Day for the second year in three - and to be the only side not from a Test ground among the four on each occasion - represented a fine achievement. They only lost three times in the Championship, too - only Surrey and Lancashire were beaten less often in Division Two - but a lack of bite with the ball meant they only won three games. Only Leicestershire won fewer. Financial problems led to the departure of several players, including the much-prized David Willey, although after some procrastination, Ben Duckett stayed.

2016 prospects

At full strength, Northants still have a relatively strong, well-balanced side. They also have, in Saif Zaib, Duckett and Olly Stone, some talented, young and homegrown cricketers who can enjoy fine careers. The problem is their lack of depth. So desperate are the finances of the club that they have only 15 full-time professionals and the burden on the seam bowlers, in particular Stone, Azharullah and Rory Kleinveldt, is likely to be impossibly onerous. It is therefore understandable that the club have signed Monty Panesar, whatever his erratic behaviour and fitness issues, to shoulder some of the burden. Rob Newton and Duckett may also be pressed into service as opening batsmen. With so little depth, though, this could be a long, tough season on the pitch. Off the pitch, financial troubles threaten to drag the club under.

Key player

It doesn't take long to understand why Alex Wakely is captain. Calm, positive and good natured, he is just the sort of character required to coax this side through a long and no doubt testing season. He times the ball pleasingly, too. But Northants could do with him turning all those qualities into more tangible rewards in the form of runs. A total of four first-class centuries and average of 30 is modest for one so able.

Bright young thing

Olly Stone is the sort of bowler every county in the land would want: young, quick and blessed with a good attitude, he is a former captain of the U-19s and once claimed the best figures by an England bowler (11 for 79) in an U-19 Test against South Africa. But he also has a history of back trouble - he withdrew from the EPP this winter because of it - and hardly needs the burden that seems inevitable in a 15-man squad. Saif Zaib, a 17-year-old left-arm spinning allrounder, is worth watching, too.

ESPNcricinfo verdict

A decent cricket department - and some fine young players - deserve better than the management from which Northants currently suffers.

Bet365 odds: Specsavers Championship, Div 2: 11-1; NatWest Blast n/a; Royal London Cup 33/1.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments