Northamptonshire will hope to continue to defy the pundits in 2017 as they prepare for the new campaign with a pre-season trip to Barbados.
Perennial underdogs, Northants’ small squad, financial pressures, and status as a backwater of English cricket affords them little prominence in commentators’ predictions. Yet their record speaks for itself.
A second NatWest T20 Blast title was added last season to the fairytale triumph in 2013 - another final appearance in 2015 wraps up the most successful record in the shortest format of any team over the past four years. Add to that a 50-over quarter-final last season and a strong finish to the County Championship campaign - winning four of the last six matches - and expectations perhaps should be of Northants’ often-unfancied bunch to be very competitive across formats in 2017.
The will hope to use a 10-day trip to the Caribbean to build on their work during the winter, with head coach David Ripley wanting the squad to “hit the ground running” for the opening competitive fixture against Loughborough MCCU on 2 April.
“We’ve banked a very good period pre-Christmas,” said Ripley. “It’s been mainly just physical work, and then from January through to March we’ve incorporated some cricket and it’s gone really well.
“The main reason for that, is we’ve had an end-date on coming out of the indoor school. Having that end-date is very helpful in terms of the intensity that we’re able to get indoors.
“We took it a bit slower this time with getting back to the actual cricket. Last year we had one or two empty sessions so we’ve built it up a little more with just one cricket session a week to start with, towards four a week at the sharp end ready for Barbados.
“The players have done really well and we’re very pleased with what we’ve achieved so far. It’s a very mentally demanding game cricket so you have to get that balance between having a freshness of mind and body against doing the work you need to do. I think we’ve got that well covered in this period.”
The Barbados trip has become a feature of Northants pre-season preparation for several years. “It’s no holiday,” said Ripley. “We’ve got one day off in 10. We’ve got five days of competitive cricket and four practise days. It’s shorter than we’d like really so we’ve got to load up high. We’ve got to look after the bowlers and make sure they don’t get through too much work.
“We want to be hitting the ground for when we play Loughborough. If we’re saving it for the week after, we’ve left it too late. We need to be ready for that first fixture and it starts in Barbados, getting practise levels up, bowlers getting their volumes up and players influencing selection.”