County previews April 3, 2013

Refocused Northants can make progress

Last season 8th, CC Div 2; Group stages, T20; Sixth in Group C, CB40

2012 in a nutshell: A dire year. No team won fewer games in the Championship, the CB40 or the FLt20 in 2012 and the previous head coach, David Capel, paid for the failure with his job. While the red ball form was a disappointment - Northants had come close to winning promotion in 2011 - the white ball form was far worse as the club rely on limited-overs success to attract spectators. The bowling lacked incision, the batting lacked reliability and, crucially, in key passages of play, Northants seemed fragile. The failure precipitated some introspection at the club and, under the relatively new chief executive, David Smith, the club have reappraised their role in the game. There was a change of captaincy, the departure of some senior players - the club accepted they were unable to hold on to Jack Brooks and also released Chaminda Vaas, Rob White and Niall O'Brien.

2013 prospects: It will take time to turn things round at Northants. Without the budget to compete in the transfer market, they must recruit and develop far more of their own players if they are to regain relevance. In the long-term, their on-field success may rely on the improvement in the off-field facilities that is designed to increase the club's financial turnover significantly. Hosting concerts, conferences and improving community links are essential to the club's futures. The early signs are positive, though: they have recruited wisely - Matt Spriegel and Steven Crook are reliable, affordable players with points to prove, while Azharullah is an intriguing fast-bowling addition - and they have two of the better players in the England U19 team, Olly Stone and Ben Duckett, who it is hoped will form the spine of the team for years to come. Others, like Rob Newton and Alex Wakely, should be moving into their prime while the likes of Luke Evans looks to have the raw materials to make a strong impression. Expectations need to be tempered but Northants should be able to make noticeable advances in 2013.

Key player: Northants require far a greater contribution from Andrew Hall. Astute enough to have signed a long-term contract before the financial squeeze had hit - or before Northants had realised it had hit, anyway - Hall is far and away the most expensive player in the squad. To whom much is given, much is expected.

Bright young thing: Ben Duckett may still be at school but, so promising is his keeping, that the club were keen to move Niall O'Brien on in order to provide more opportunity for the 18-year-old. Olly Stone, a 19-year-old seamer who claimed the best-ever bowling figures for England in an U19 Test of 11 for 79, is also one for the future.

Captain/coach: With Hall having stepped down, Northants have two new captains this year. Stephen Peters is captain of the Championship side with Alex Wakely in charge of the limited-overs teams. The aim is to inject new energy into the squad and instil greater team unity and fight. Under the enthusiastic head coach, David Ripley, a burgeoning spirit seems to be building.

Cricinfo's verdict: Northants hit rock bottom last year, but it seems the experience has helped the club refocus on its role and responsibilities to the game. A determination to develop home-grown players will take time to come to fruition but, with young players offered opportunity and encouragement, the club should take the first steps on the road of progress in 2013.

Read our supporters' network preview on Northants. ESPNcricinfo will be publishing a fan blog for each of the 18 counties as we build up to the 2013 season

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo