T20 FINALS DAY: Steelbacks coach Ripley backing Willey to sign off in style

HE'S COME A LONG WAY - David Willey celebrates scoring a 50 during his first-class debut for Northants as a 19-year-old in 2009 (above), and then celebrates his maiden first-class century earlier this season (below)
HE'S COME A LONG WAY - David Willey celebrates scoring a 50 during his first-class debut for Northants as a 19-year-old in 2009 (above), and then celebrates his maiden first-class century earlier this season (below)

Northants head coach has paid tribute to David Willey, and is backing the all-rounder to fire the Steelbacks to Natwest T20 Blast glory on Saturday.

Willey could play his final game for Northants at Edgbaston on Saturday, with England commitments meaning he is unavailable for two of the County’s remaining LV= Championship fixtures.

The 25-year-old will be free for the final first-class fixture of the season at Surrey, which starts on September 22, but the chances of him playing in that game are slim.

That means Willey’s swansong for his his county of birth, before heading for pastures new in Yorkshire, will be at Edgbaston, and Ripley is hoping he goes out with a bang.

The Steelbacks play hosts and reigning champions Birmingham Bears in the opening semi-final at 11am, and the first hurdle will be winning that to set up a final against either Hampshire or Lancashire Lightning.

“It would mean a lot to David I am sure, to go out with a win,” said Ripley.

“This could probably be his last performance for the club, but he is and has been fully focused on doing what he can for the team.

“He was in doing 12th man (against Leicestershire) on Saturday, he fielded all day and had a day in the dirt with the lads.

“Nobody here is blaming him (for signing for Yorkshire), he leaves on good terms and I think it’s important he knows that.

“He is local, the club means a lot to him, but he wants to play Test cricket.

“He’s had a taste of ODI cricket, and he believes that environment (at Yorkshire) is better for him, and it is hard to argue with that.

“Division one cricket is a step up.”

Ripley is a huge admirer of Willey, and feels he will thrive on the big stage in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Saturday - just as he did in the ODI series against New Zealand earlier this year.

“I enjoyed seeing David through that England ODI series and how he grew into it,” said the Steelbacks coach.

“He didn’t look quite like the David Willey we know in the earlier games, and he was just feeling his way in.

“But by the end he was more than happy in that environment and he was loving every minute of it, which is what we get week in, week out.

“He likes the big stage, he has shown he can perform on the big stage, and there is no doubt if he has a good day for us it will go a long way towards us having a bit of success.”

Ripley and his Northants team are in good shape ahead of finals day, with the coach pleased that the team are playing first against the Bears.

Steelbacks also played the first semi-final when they won the tournament in 2013, beating Essex before going on to hammer Surrey in the final, and Ripley feels the familiarity of the occasion will help his players, the majority of whom were involved that day.

“Winning there in 2013 is a help, even down to logistics,” said the Steelbacks coach.

“We have got the same training spot on Friday afternoon that we managed to get before, we have the same hotel, and we’re on first as we were then.

“So all of our arrangements will be mapped out, and if we win the semi-final the players will go back to the hotel, and they have all experienced that which will be helpful.

“Then there’s the occasion itself.

“It’s often that big stage where people take a step back or take a step forward, and I think we have always shown we have plenty of lads that take a step forward and shine on that big stage. We are looking forward to it.”