“ Sports: Cricket / Sport Topic: Cricket Teams „
I owe it dooyoo to make my 1500th review a dedication to my beloved Northants Cricket Club, because it was writing here that gave me the confidence and acceptable level of grammar and punctuation to get good enough to scribble for my local rag, where I write the 'Viewfromtheblues' cricket column. I have also gone on to write pieces for many other cricket magazines and websites, bar the bible, that of Wisden, my next goal.
But is it the end for the likes of Northant's in the 18 team County Championship? The two divisional systems has introduced wage inflation and unless you have a healthy wealthy benefactor you can't keep up with those player pay demands and end up with an uncompetitive team as the best players go elsewhere, as is the case with my team, Jack Brooks the latest to defect to the top league. We remain one of only two of the 19 counties never to win the county championship in our history.
The crazy thing about the ECB encouraging wage inflation through the two leagues is they have to pay for it in the end, all 18 counties dependent on the annual ECB hand out, up to 80% of the small clubs revenue. Our wealthy backer died two years ago and although we pushed for promotion in the second division of the championship in two of the last four seasons and just missed out by a point or so on those two occasions we are now slashing back hard on staff and will field only 17 professional players next year. Baring in mind Chelsea FC have 34 professionals in their football set up, 17 is a worryingly low number for a cricket team to be competitive in three different tournaments. Going into the season with just five seamers is unthinkable although there is a strong rumor we have lined up a good Aussie fast bowler. In Ashes year he can't be that good though. I hope its Bret Lee.
What seems to be happening is the ECB are using the England cricket team to strengthen the top league of the championship by surreptitiously whispering in younger player's ears that if they want to play for England they must be playing in the first division, therefore strengthening the top leagues branding potential and sponsors in the process. A proper Premier League can't be far away now, shutting out the rest the way domestic rugby does. If you look at the make up of the current England side it's mostly from players in the first division or from the big teams the ECB want in that first division, the test ground counties that need filling to bring down the massive debt the 18 counties carry. If you add Somerset, Essex and Sussex to those eight grounds you have the elite league they secretly desire. That would be the perfect first division for the ECB to draw the England side from and so sod the rest and their handouts, the likes of Northants merely subsidy bottom feeders. When we do our job and produce England talent it's ripped away from us anyway and we get no real credit. This was the main reason we went with bespoke Kolpak players to be competitive.
The Monty Panesar saga sums up the problem for teams like Northamptonshire, who want to be in the top league by retaining those top homegrown players. It was an awkward time for Panesar at the end of his Northants career as the infamous South African Kalpak contingent flooded the team at the club that led me to nickname the Northamptonshire Steelbacks in the local press as the 'Steelboks'. The cocky 'Yappies' clearly unsettled the rather gauche British Indian and he felt somewhat picked upon by them. They used to say horrid things about him in Afrikaans on and off the pitch and not surprisingly his form collapsed, so losing his England place and then his Central Contract. We got him to a good enough standard to play test Cricket, the counties priority remit, and Central Contracts are fine when the player is playing for England but once they are dropped the club has to pick up the big wages, part of the central contract clubs deal for the player's domestic services. This meant we couldn't meet his salary in the final year of his contract and so we had to off-load him fast.
After I emailed the Sussex coach to let him know about our dilemma - I felt it was the right thing for the club to move Monty on so he didn't bankrupt us - Mark Robinson (the Sussex coach) made his move and signed Monty, but on a much lower wage than we were paying him, meaning a £70,000 shortfall, of which we had to pay Monty up to insure he left, Panesar donating back ten grand out of that to the club out of guilt for the county who had made him yet broken his heart. This type of problem is happening to other smaller counties and to some extent it happened again for us with our rather excellent swing bowler Jack Brooks. Jack penned in an escape clause to the three year deal he signed for Northants last season, meaning he could leave if we didn't get promoted, which we didn't, finishing second bottom this season. The paradox was he was the only one who could have got us promoted as he is our stand out player and as he was injured for most of the season he lost confidence in the set up through frustration and jumped. The smaller teams have become so dependent on their best players that the bigger counties know that all they need do now is buy or unsettle those players during the season and so destroy any chances of promotion for the minnows, Yorkshire snapping up Brooksy with a nice two year deal and a swanky club car and flat in Leeds already sorted.
Our new chairman, 54-year-old David Smith, an ex player for Warwickshire and brother of legendary party animal and fellow Warwickshire player Paul Smith, is aware of our precarious cash position and has cut the squad down to the marrow, seven players moved on and five of those the clubs biggest earners. Backroom staff has also been chain sawed. Only two players have come in so far to replace them, mouthy wicketkeeper Nial O'Brien effectively forced out (to Leicestershire CCC) with a year to go on his deal just to free up cash to sign some young players so to put a side out next year. Our creaking captain, Andrew Hall, was bizarrely awarded a three year contract by the departing chairman on Hall's 37th birthday? I'm investigating that one right now, as I am the ex chairmen's wife's company being involved in the procurement of the clubs new floodlights and stands. Something very fishy there.
Although money is very tight it's not all bad at Wantage Road for next season. We have some promising young players coming through and just signed Ben Duckett, who could well be England's wicketkeeper for many years to come when Prior is finished. All-rounder David Willey, son of test umpire and ex Northants player Peter Willey, has been the real revelation of 2012 and looking every inch the Ian Botham of Division 2, his blonde mullet, fiery swing bowling and aggressive swashbuckling stroke play the only saving grace for the fans this year. But it looks like he will have to open the bowling in 2013 because, as yet, we have no strike bowler, and as he averaged 35 he is likely to expensive again with the new ball, Northants seamers struggling with the new Duke all year, the lifeless and seamless red cherry retiring Chaminda Vaas, our overseas player this season. Chain smoker Chaminda's off pitch 'social' antics seemed to distract him from his job somewhat in 2012. Once he sussesed the ball didn't have the spare tire he did in April he just gave up.
Northant's one-day form has been appalling of late, failing to win a Twenty20 game at home for two years. Mid season we lost Coach David Capel, an ex Northants player, due to terrible results and he was replaced with second team coach David Ripley, another ex player, both rewarded for service to the club over any real leadership skills. During the end of a terrible Twenty20 season there was a fight in the dressing room between Capel, injured club captain Andrew Hall and overseas star Cameron White, the Aussie swinging at Capel when the coach stepped in to break up the ruck between Hall and White, kit and helmets flying everywhere!
The saddest sight this summer for me was seeing Jack Brooks and co in the pub during the England Lions game at Northampton, smashing back the beers, our star seamer bowling the following morning with two good West Indian wickets already in the top pocket and could have got a 'fivefor' and impressed the selectors. Instead he chose the late night with fellow players Johnny Bairstow, Jade Dernbach, Liam Dawson and Tom Maynard, he who would be dead three weeks later from booze related nonsense. I didn't dare tell them to get their head down but it disappointed me that players still booze their careers away.
If drinking doesn't get them in county cricket then bed hoping does, an infamous incident involving both Northants wicketkeepers and one that ripped the club apart in 2005. Club lothario and keeper number two Russell Warren liked the ladies, especially the first team keeper Tobin Bailey's fiancée. While Bailey was keeping out in the middle, that meant Russell wasn't, the number two could jump into bed with the future Mrs Bailey, Russell caught out when Tobin bruised a finger early on in the days play and returned home to find Warren in his bed. From then on one half of the dressing room had most of the lads and the other side just Warren and old mucca Graeme Swann, tight mates. The club failed to act and neither keeper wanted to leave and so the season was dire.
Swann, of course, has been a revelation for England and refreshing in the media, always the entertainer. I remember him standing in at the last when the band cancelled for the club do and he did a whole hour's stand up. He does good impressions and the fans loved it. He is now, of course, a rock n roll star, as well as England's first best spinner ever. So he tells me. Some of the other stories I can't tell on here. Swanny always had the ability to play for England but preferred to be the big fish in the small pond at Wantage Road. He loves an audience and it's him who has upstaged and upset Pieterson at England. No Swann playing for England and KP would be half the trouble, a huge clash of ego. But incoming Northants coach Kepler Wessels had heard about his antics and didn't want him from day one and in the nets threatened Swann to put him in his place. Kep's asked Swann that I hear you do impressions. Swann replied that - 'yes he did and who would you like? Kepler snarled back that if you ever impersonate me son I'll snap your spine. Needless to say Swann left soon after. He needed to anyway as there was never enough oxygen in the Northants fish tank for the two of them.
The old days...
The teams of the 1980s and the early 90s were Northants golden days and English players like Larkin's, Lamb, Willey, Bailey and Capel made my youth rather halcyon days watching cricket at Northampton. If we needed to chase down 300 off 70 over's on the final day of the old three day matches then we would get them, and with over's to spare ,the prolific first three going through the gears and Capes finishing them off with some towering sixes. I remember a semi-final at Maidstone in the Benson & Hedges were Northants needed to score at 12 an over for 12 over's to win and Lamb scored of every ball to bring us home, the original Twenty20 innings. In the club records these guys dominate the batting statistics whereas the bowling is dominated by the uncovered wicket guys of the 1940 and 50s.
----Top First Class Run Scorers----
Dennis Brookes - 28980
Geoff Cook - 20976
John Timms - 20433
Wayne Larkins - 20317
Rob Bailey - 20181
Allan Lamb - 20128
--Top Wicket Takers---
Nobby Clark - 1102w
Vallance Jupp - 1078w
George Thompson - 1078w
George Tribe - 1021w
Albert Thomas - 817w
Brian Crump 807w
Highest Total - 781-7 declared Nottinghamshire Northampton 1995
Lowest Total - 12 Gloucestershire Bristol 1907
-Highest individual score-
1. Mike Hussey - 331* v Somerset at Taunton in 2003
2. Mike Hussey - 329* v Essex at Wantage Rd in 2001
3. Mal Loye 331* v Somerset at County Ground, Taunton in 2003
-Most runs in a season -
1. Dennis Brookes - 2,198 (1952)
2. Norman Oldfield - 2,192 (1949)
3. Mike Hussey - 2,055 (2001)
Overseas players for the county and it was a sad week with the death of the dashing blue-eyed all rounder from Zimbabwe, Kevin Curran, at just 53 years young. KC was a fitness fanatic and maybe didn't give his body time to recover and picked up an infection, dropping dead in Zimbabwe whilst out jogging, the then head of the Zimbabwean Cricket Academy. If you don't listen to what your body tells you and train through injury and illness then that's when problems can get worse. KC would lead the guys out as Northants captain in stoic style and his never say die attitude was appreciated by the players and fans alike, taking us very close to that maiden county championship win in the 1990s. He honestly believed we could win every game, even though his personal averages in the game were not that prolific. He wasn't the most stylish player and rather cramped in his action but boy would he put in with bat and ball.
Curtley Ambrose and Anil Kumble were the best overseas bowlers in my time watching Northant's and Kumble's 106 wickets also took us close to the championship, only a telephone call from Lords to tell Middlesex to play for a draw denying us to leave us third. Ambrose would snarl viciously if he conceded a run, never mind a dropped catch! It was the same when we needed Essex to lose to Derbyshire to go up in 2009 and Derbyshire decided to hand the game to Essex in the final session with some rank bowling and likewise declaration of a dead game.
The best overseas bats had to be run machine Mike Hussey and the dashing Mathew Hayden. Hussey had the greatest leave alone shot in the book which seemed to illuminate his chances of getting out, piling up huge scores with his superb concentration. Other big names to grace the Northamptonshire overseas shirt over the years include the great Indian all-rounder Kapil Dev and the dynamic Roger Harper of the West Indies, who hit almighty sixes. Bishan Bedi graced us with his mystery spin in the 1970s and swinger Safraz Nawaz of Pakistan bed-ied the local ladies as they stroked his magnificent mustache! One modern player we do miss from South Africa is quickie Johan Van der Wath, ripped away from us by the ECB via Kolpak rules, the wild man of the County Ground. He loved his cigarettes and some say the pile of sawdust you get on the run up was in fact fag ash. I swear he kept his tabs in his pocket on the pitch. He wasn't too keen on bowling long spells but the opening 30 balls of the innings from him nearly always got a wicket. He loved to bat at number 8 and would have been one of the great Twenty20 hitters for the club if we could have kept him, as was young Rikki Wessel's, also usurped under qualification rules.
---First XI Honours---
Runners Up - 1912, 1957, 1965, 1976
Division Two: Winners (1) - 2000
Runners Up - 2003
-Clydesdale Bank 40-
Best: 3rd place (Group B) - 2011
Friends Life t20
Best: Semi finalists - 2009
Division One: Runners Up (1) - 2006
Division Two: Promoted (Runners Up) - 2003
Division Two: Promoted (3rd place) - 1999
---Friends Provident Trophy---
Winners (2) - 1976, 1992
Runners Up (5) - 1979, 1981, 1987, 1990, 1995
---Benson and Hedges Cup---
Winners (1) - 1980
Runners Up (2) - 1987, 1996
Minor Counties Championship
Winners (2) - 1903, 1904
Shared (2) - 1899, 1900
= = = Second XI Honors = = =
Second XI Championship
Winners (2) - 1960, 1998
Second XI Trophy
Winners (2) - 1986, 1998
Spike Milligan said of his great friend Harry Secombe who died last week”He was a groveling coward In the war. He would be first up every morning in the muddy trenches leaning over a bowl of water scrubbing the white flag”. And that is definitely the case with most batsmen in the early English and Welsh cool springtime as the balls whistles past their roar red ears at 85 mph. And you don’t want to be in the slips when they get an edge. Innings of less than 200 are the norm at Northamptons Wantage Road ground this time of year. It’s a mystery to all cricket fans why on Earth we start the season mid April.Come June and July, theres always-empty baron weeks at the heart of the summer heat in the fixture list. Why not play well into September as the Autumnal South westerlies blow summer and cricket over the horizon to the Southern Hemisphere. I presume one of the reasons for it, and one of the last great anachronisms that the Oxbridge sides still have to play the counties before the sacred alumni begin the social season around the May Ball times. There really can’t be any other reasons, it’s certainly not for the fans, that’s for sure. So its match one of 16 for Northamptonshire county championship season versus Glamorgan and the wicket is very green and the outfield lush from our wettest year on record. We have a chance against the under strength Welsh as their dressing room is still under quarantine for Foot n Mouth (he he). Any batsmen qualified to play for England who make runs this time of the year should, pending how fashionable their clubs are to the selectors, be classed as useful with the right qualities to be in the frame with the ball zipping at all angles. We have lost our best young batsmen for the season in David Sales.He managed to rupture the cruciate playing volleyball on the A-Tour, he’s not built for this sport and has more spare fat than a Bu
tchers bin. Unbeknown to most, Sales holds three significant cricket records, with two being world records. He’s the youngest player at 16 years and 234 days to score a fifty in the Sunday league. The youngest ever to score a double hundred at 18 and also the youngest to a triple hundred at 20 years, 345 days. His game is simplistic and based on blasting the ball to all parts. Of all his big hundreds, each has been achieved by three boundaries in one over to take him to the landmark. He has a great eye, but doesn’t do it when it matters, bit of a flat track slogger like Mr. Hick, so you cant list him in the games greats. Mal Loye comes into replace him, who also similar talent at a young age. But like most, he’s settled into the easy grind of county cricket. We don’t need a start like last year where we were rock bottom by the beginning of June.But as soon as the sun shone, and the ground hardened, we shaved the wicket like a Russell Crowe after Gladiator and tossed the ball to our excellent young spinners. We won the league two by a street. Swann and Brown have been designated carriers of Michael Athurton and Nasser Hussiens golf bag on the last two England Winter tours. 100 wickets later, we were Division Two champs under the excellent Aussie captaincy of Mat Hayden. We have replaced Mathew with Wayne Hussy who averaged 44 in The Sheffield Shield for Western Australia (no mean feat) and picked up the useful all rounder Matt Cassar to fill out the poor middle order. Sadly our bowling is the weakest in this years division one with no real opening bowler. Cousins and aging Taylor are first changers who work hard. The left right combination will be knackered by the concrete June wickets. We have signed an ex Windies bowler but he has yet to get a work permit, which is very ironic as the town has three thousand asylum seekers all working illegally. Better than the usele
ss washed up Devon Malcolm we had last year. His bowling knows no boundaries, well most of them as we say round here. So it’s down to the spinners and a decent one-day performance in one of the three tournaments. Our prospects look grimmer then the weather sweeping over the ground at the moment. We will be happy to stay up this year, but I cant see it as the game is more money orientated as ever with the classy players moving to division one clubs to catch selectors eyes and note pads, if the University tie doesn’t. The renowned capitalist in Maclaren, the ex Tesco boss who now runs cricket. He’s already started cutting of the valuable TV and Test match revenue to the smaller clubs. It’s the only thing that makes us economically viable, any savings can only be made on the playing staff. We lost a record 122 grand here last year and the membership alone raises only 10 percent of the income. Most comes from TV (if we get to the later stages of the one dayers) and advertising on the boards. Our hospitality was terrible last year, and who’s going to come and see second division if we go down again. Still I love my cricket and huddling up against the prevailing North wind as the bowler asks ump for another two sweaters. The older pros have the twelfth man bombing around the boundary for survival gear and bets selections the 3-45 at Uttoxeter. Most of the membership remember the great wars, zero crime rates and the funny episode of One foot in the Grave.Even in the so called summers here they ware six sweaters and their D-mob suits. One cant imagine how cold they are in April!. The second X1 are another anachronism of professional cricket that swell the playing staff and payroll to ridiculous numbers. Regardless of how good or connected they are, the car park is full off sponsor’s cars for these young 16-19 year olds straight from prep school. Hardly any of them make it,
or bother lowering themselves to the slog of a career in county cricket. We have an excellent lottery built cricket pavilion and academy, and its kids are all from good families and schools that really don’t have the guts or skill to earn more in the game than the cost of the gear mummy and daddy shelled out for. It’s hard to see anyone outside of Surrey and perhaps Leicestershire if they can get their young blades dashing. Surrey will have a lot away on Ashes duty although the addition of Ramprakash wont hurt, then again, he’s prime college boy nepotism to join his old muckers in the England side.(most of them have warn the three lions at The Oval). Lancashire could also go well this year with the puckka spinning chucker from Sri-Lanka and good young bowlers coming through. One dayers will be more competitive with Tom Moodys Worcestershire looking like bagging one this year. Warwickshire should stroll division two with their test status and resources, let alone a shrewder over seas selection over the burnt out sun cream cheat Donald (well he does have it on his nose in April).. Gloustershire should make their fifth final out of seven in the B&H, as they have the ideal bowling attack in Lewis, Smith, and Harvey for the green early season strips. Bowlers who can nip and cut it off the seam can easily have 25 wickets by the end of May. Time to brace myself for the full blast of the early spring bitter wind for a warm cup of over priced tea. We all moan about the weather here, but its better to be out watching leather on willow and vapor trails streak the blue sky hidden behind scuttling white clouds. Then again, maybe its better to be on those metallic glinting distant craft, heading to and from warmer climes and pursuits. Na, we love our cricket and Oasis away from the world and its woes. Got to go as the laptop battery has spluttered its last syntax.
The County Ground / Wantage Road / Northampton / NN1 4TJ