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Defiant Northants dig deep to lift T20 prize

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Farrell: One win for the underdogs (1:16)

Melinda Farrell reports from Edgbaston where a defiant Northants team overcame a tough Durham challenge to clinch the Natwest T20 blast championship (1:16)

Northamptonshire 155 for 6 (Cobb 80, Wakely 43) beat Durham 153 for 8 (Jennings 88, Sanderson 3-31) by four wickets
Scorecard

Northants have defied injuries, international call-ups and relentless financial problems to secure their second limited-overs trophy since 1992 with victory in the final of the NatWest Blast.

Reeling at 9 for 3 after 14 balls, Northants were rescued by a brilliant, fearless and powerful innings of 80 in 48 balls from Josh Cobb that helped them to victory with four wickets and five delivers to spare.

Cobb, man of the match for Leicestershire as a bowler when they won this competition in 2011, added 120 in 78 balls with Alex Wakely - Wakely's second century stand of the day - to help Northants cope with an outstanding display of fast bowling from Mark Wood and clinch this trophy for the second time in four years.

It was Cobb's final innings of the season. He has been struggling with a knee injury for six weeks and will undergo surgery in the coming days.

Dealing with adversity is nothing new for Northants. Not only had they also been three down after 14 balls of their semi-final against a Nottinghamshire side awash with international talent, but they have wrestled, though much of the last couple of years, with financial worries putting the club under pressure not just to retain their players but remain solvent.

So limited have the resources been this season that the coach, David Ripley, admitted the day before the final that there had been times when, a day or two before a game, he had been obliged to ring around other counties in a search for loan players simply to ensure he could field a team. A familiar scenario for many club captains, perhaps, but far from ideal for a first-class county.

Those resources were tested further ahead of this match. Seekkuge Prasanna was called-up by Sri Lanka, Richard Gleeson, who has emerged as their key fast bowler, suffered a side strain in Thursday's Royal London quarter-final defeat and Olly Stone, a young fast bowler in whom they had high hopes (but who has subsequently signed for Warwickshire) was ruled out for the season through injury.

There are times their cricket looks a little unconventional. In Richard Levi and Rory Kleinveldt they have the sort of heavyweight players who have been all but squeezed out of the modern, professional game - Levi's attempt to leap for a catch offered by Ryan Pringle at mid-wicket saw him reach, at his zenith, a height of roughly an inch off the ground and a fitter man may well have made his ground when run-out by Scott Borthwick's direct hit - the bowling attack lacks the cutting edge of any of their rivals at Finals Day and their batting, the outrageously talented Ben Duckett apart, lacks obvious star quality.

But such sustained success as theirs cannot be dismissed as fortune. This was the third time in four years they had reached the NatWest Blast final and, over the last two seasons, they have contested three of the possible four quarter-finals in the limited-overs competitions. In that time, they have seen David Willey, a product of their own system, go on to play a leading role for Yorkshire and England and produced other players - not least Ben Duckett, whose 84 helped them win their semi final, and Stone - who could well go on to enjoy similar success.

"Northants' playing budget is about the same size as Surrey's budget for fake-tan"

It is surely no coincidence that the success has come since Ripley - a member of the Northants side that won the NatWest Trophy in 1992 - was appointed in August 2012. Despite the financial pressures - his playing budget is about the same size as Surrey's budget for fake-tan - and the departure of key players, he has built a spirit, a unity, a template that continues to punch way above its weight.

Ripley has made a virtue of necessity. With few selection options - he can only dream of the dilemmas faced by Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire's coaches in recent days - he has instead built an environment where players are given time to learn their roles and nobody need look over their shoulder in fear of their place. It's not just the players that Northants' management need to ensure are secured on long-term, rewarding contracts: it's their coaching team.

While the money won from this success will hardly make a dent in their financial issues - the winning players take home £200,000, but the winning club just £81,000; the Northants sandwich bill alone must be more than that - it does provide a timely reminder of the ability of sport to transcend financial might.

For as this match between two cash-strapped sides - this might have been dubbed the austerity final - reminds us, money can't always buy success in sport. Teams full of international stars - the Nottinghamshire team beaten in one semi-final contained nine international players; the Yorkshire team beaten in the other contained eight - do not necessarily defeat teams forged with spirit and unity, who know their roles and play for one another. And it will be an irony lost on few that, in the sort of eight-team city-based tournament that some at the ECB favour, neither of the finalists in this year's NatWest T20 Blast would even be included in the competition.

Durham's total was built almost entirely on a career-best T20 innings from Keaton Jennings. Despite having never made a T20 half-century, Jennings produced a maturely paced 88 - the highest score made in the history of T20 Finals Day - with nobody else in the side reaching 20. Graeme White's left-arm spin and the seam of Steven Crook and Klenveldt were driven for straight sixes, while when Ben Sanderson dropped short he was pulled for six more.

While Jennings was dropped on 43 - a caught and bowled chance to Crook - Northants' fielding in the final was generally outstanding. Cobb threw himself to his left at extra-cover to cling on to an outstanding catch to dismiss Pringle and Rob Keogh produced a diving catch on the mid-wicket boundary to end Ben Stokes' dangerous cameo.

Sanderson and Crook, with 21 dot balls between them, were frugal though it was the skiddy pace of Azharullah - who conceded just 22 from his four overs - who stood out in keeping Durham to a total perhaps 15 or so below par on an excellent Finals Day surface.

Still, at 9 for 3, it seemed Northants might fall well short. Wood, rattling the top-order with his pace, threatened to win his second game of the day and had Adam Rossington caught off the shoulder of the bat with his first ball.

But Cobb and Wakely, understanding that once Wood was negated the attack held few fears, gradually took control. Usman Arshad was taken for 18 from his first over - a hip-high full toss was both called for no-ball and pulled for six before the free-hit delivery was sliced for four more - while Cobb pulled two sixes off Borthwick, who was struggling to grip the ball in the drizzle and drove the seamers with both power and placement.

But the time Wood returned, in the 12th over, Cobb was seeing the ball clearly and greeted a short ball with a pull that crashed to the midwicket boundary well in front of square. The over cost 11 and, with Durham lacking the firepower to support Wood, there was nothing to stop Northants claiming another memorable success.