By Chris Devine and Rob Barnett
Alex Wakely reflected on “the best hour I’ve had playing cricket” after Northants Steelbacks trounced Surrey by 102 runs to claim Friends Life t20 glory at Edgbaston.
Without a major trophy for more than two decades, Northants delivered a sensational display to break their duck in the final after defeating Essex Eagles by seven wickets earlier in the day.
David Willey stole the show, striking the fastest fifty in the competition as the Steelbacks posted 194 for two from 18 overs and then completing bowing figures of 4-9 with a hat-trick that dismissed Surrey for 92.
Having put such a commanding total on the board, Northants were able to soak up the carnival atmosphere as Surrey subsided in reply.
“People kept walking past each other saying ‘enjoy it’,” said Wakely of the final few overs.
“We were really at rock-bottom last year (after winning just one t20 game and failing to gain promotion in the LV= County Championship) - there were times where we didn’t know where to go.
“So to turn it around so quickly … we wanted to try and enjoy that atmosphere for as long as we could.
“It’s the best hour I’ve ever had playing cricket. It was a great atmosphere and such an enjoyable day for us. It was something that will live with me for a long time no matter what happens in the future now.”
Elaborating on his team’s recent rise, which has also seen them occupy a top-two berth in Division Two of the championship throughout the summer, Wakely added: “We almost started from scratch. We had a heart-to-heart at the end of last year; a lot of people were disappointed with the way we were playing our cricket.
“We sat down; we worked hard and we’re reaping the rewards this year.
“If you’d have told me we’d win finals day I wouldn’t have believed you to be honest. We were looking for an improvement in our one-day cricket and concentrating on promotion in the championship.
“To actually get to finals day and to win something as a club is just an unbelievable feeling.”
Northants head coach David Ripley was also understandably thrilled to secure the club’s first major prize since the 1992 NatWest Trophy.
He added: “It's fantastic. We talk about the 21 years. I got a bit self indulgent last night talking about the 21 years.
“It's pretty special when you wait that long. Hopefully we won't have to wait that long for the next special day.”
Surrey skipper Vikram Solanki, standing in today for the banned Gareth Batty, paid gracious tribute to Northants when admitting: “They were too good.”
Solanki added: “For them to come out in the manner they did and bat in that fashion against a very good attack that has been consistently good throughout our campaign is quite outstanding. Then, having posted the total they did, it was always going to be difficult for us.”
As for Willey, Solanki said: “He’s a good all-rounder isn’t he. He strikes the ball cleanly and then it was just his day to finish with a hat-trick.
“I’m pleased for him obviously, while being disappointed at coming second.”
Surrey, who came second in the South Group, knocked out 2012 champions Hampshire Royals in a tight semi-final.
“We’re desperately disappointed to have lost the final, but we can be immensely proud of beating the sides we’ve beaten on the way here,” Solanki reflected.
“We’ve a lot of cricket to play, some tough cricket, and some championship cricket, so we’ll soak this up and then come back and prepare for the next phase, which is quite a lot of championship cricket.”