'If you have a happy changing room, you perform'

Alex Wakely, the Northamptonshire captain, hailed his team's apparent weaknesses - their small squad and financial worries - as key factors in his side's success in the NatWest T20 Blast

George Dobell
George Dobell
Alex Wakely, the Northamptonshire captain, hailed his team's apparent weaknesses - their small squad and financial worries - as key factors in his side's success in the NatWest T20 Blast.
Wakely led the side to their second T20 trophy in four years at Edgbaston on Saturday, overcoming a Nottinghamshire side containing nine international players in the semi-final and a Durham side boosted by the return of Ben Stokes and Mark Wood in the final.
But while Northants' small squad has, at times this season, seen their coach phoning around the counties for loan players ahead of games in order to be able to name a competitive team, it has also helped create a close-knit team spirit and sense of confidence in a dressing room that knows it need not fear for places. Crucially, in a format where role definition is so important, it has also given Northants' players clarity and confidence in what is expected of them and what they can expect of their team-mates.
The difference was highlighted in the semi-final. While Nottinghamshire arrived at Edgbaston with a choice of three overseas players (only two could play) and having decided to leave out batsman Greg Smith, a regular in the qualifying games, in place of England opener Alex Hales, Northants had just one overseas player and committed to the team that had helped them reach Finals Day. Hales was subsequently bowled for a duck while Stuart Broad, having his first T20 bowl of the campaign, sent down only two overs.
While it was Northants' first victory over Nottinghamshire in any format since 2006, Wakely suggested that not facing such selection dilemmas might have been a factor in the result.
"A lot of the reason we've been successful over years is that we've played pretty much the same team throughout the competition," Wakely said. "You look at Notts they chopped and changed their side and it doesn't always work.
"Greg Smith for instance for Notts he was one of the best players all year and then he's not playing. I don't agree with it, but it is the way it is. We don't have that problem and that's a massive reason why we've come out here and done what we've done.
"Our small squad means we don't look over our shoulders. When someone does well, we are always enjoying it. At bigger counties, there is always someone looking over their shoulder thinking that could be me. We don't have that.
"The continuity in the dressing room helps. We've played pretty much the same team all the way through the competition for the last three years. We don't want to be a feeder club. Going forward, there's a two or three year plan to keep our best players."
While Northants have not always been in the news for the right reasons of late - their financial troubles have been well chronicled - Wakely insisted the dressing-room culture was the best he had experienced. Indeed, it seems the 'us against the world' attitude has helped forge a spirit within the squad that proved so important on finals day when Northants twice found themselves three wickets down within the first 14 balls of their innings.
"There's a lot of off-field stuff written that we have to try and ignore," Wakely said. "People on our backs, hammering us down, calling us overweight, all that kind of stuff.
"But we ignore it. That dressing room is the best I've played with. I couldn't be more proud. I love this club to bits. I've been here since I was 13 and things keep getting better and better. Laurie Evans came in [on loan from Warwickshire recently] and said it was the most enjoyable dressing room he played in.
"It's pretty simple: I believe that, if you have a happy changing room, you perform."
They were words backed by the final's Man of the Match, Josh Cobb. Cobb, who made a sparkling 80 in the final, also won the Man of the Match award for his bowling in the 2011 final ("bowling a few long-hops" as he modestly put it) while representing Leicestershire, but admitted he was enjoying his cricket much more with Northants. As a result he has rejected approaches from other counties - Derbyshire are believed to have been especially keen - and signed a new three-year deal.
"I wasn't massively enjoying my cricket at Leicester," Cobb said. "I had a few tough seasons. "But I've come here and they had an exceptional white-ball side, but more than anything I've just really enjoying my cricket. The team spirit is exceptional and I've been here two years and I've played in three out of a possible four quarter-finals and played in two T20 finals in two years. I'm really enjoying it and, ultimately, that's why you play the game."
Such was Cobb's enthusiasm for the cause that he delayed knee surgery for several weeks to help Northants in their Royal London quarter-final and at T20 Finals Day.
"This is the last time you'll see me on the field this season," he said. "I have been struggling with my knee. But I always believed that we'd be playing in a final and that's the reason I've taken the pain killers and decided to battle through."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo