T20 FINALS DAY: Wakely targets trophy to lift off-field gloom at the County Ground

NIGHT TO REMEMBER - Alex Wakely and his team-mates celebrate the Steelbacks' T20 final win in 2013

NIGHT TO REMEMBER - Alex Wakely and his team-mates celebrate the Steelbacks' T20 final win in 2013

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Alex Wakely believes the NatWest T20 Blast Finals Day is the perfect opportunity for the Steelbacks players to go out and lift the off-field gloom that has engulfed the County Ground in recent weeks.

Stories of a ‘cash crisis’ at Wantage Road have been circulating after the club announced losses of more than £300,000 for 2014.

It has been reported the club is having to undergo an ‘independent financial review’ ordered by the England & Wales Cricket Board, who want assurances before agreeing to offering any financial assistance in the future.

The club’s chief executive Ray Payne has tried to calm the situation and insisted it will be business as usual, but there is still plenty of unease among the club’s loyal support as the negative rumours continue.

Wakely and the players are well aware of what is being said and written, and the Steelbacks skipper believes winning the T20 trophy on Saturday will show everybody the club is alive and kicking.

“It’s a huge day,” admitted Wakely. “There has been a lot of stuff said and published about the club.

“We as players, all we can do is focus on the cricket and ultimately for me, it’s what we do on the cricket field that we are judged on.

“With all that bad press we have had, there would be nothing better to do than getting our hands on that trophy again.

“It was a long wait for us to get a trophy last time, and it will be a nice little fairy-tale story if we could do it again.”

And he added: “I’d love nothing more than to lead Northants to the title.

“I love this club to bits, and we are secretly quite proud with what we’ve done with all the rubbish that’s going round at the moment, and the negative press.

“We are proud we are turning up and playing good cricket.”

So has all the chat of the off-field problems affected the players?

Not so, according to Wakely.

“Day in day out and what we do as as pros it doesn’t affect us,” said the skipper.

“It might do down the line, but now we are just concentrating on playing our cricket.

“We are playing some good cricket, and that’s not just in the Twenty20, because we finished well in the One Day Cup competition and have played some nice cricket in the Championship, so we are in a pretty good place.

“We have been hampered by a few injuries lately that hasn’t helped, but we feel confident we can beat anybody in the Twenty20 cricket.”

The fact that Wakely believes the Steelbacks can beat anybody else is handy, as in Saturday morning’s semi-final they play reigning champions Birmingham Bears on their home patch.

Northants have already played the Bears twice in the group stages, losing both matches off the final ball, but Wakely has no fear.

“It’s a tough ask to play Birmingham,” admitted the 26-year-old, who captained the Steelbacks to their 2013 T20 triumph.

“We had two brilliant games against them and two last-ball finishes, and we feel we should have won both of them, but we couldn’t get over the line.

“I believe when it comes to finals day it is all about who turns up.

“It doesn’t matter if you are playing the best or the worst team, all you need is one or two players to come off and you win the game.

“That is why Twenty20 is so exciting, and I believe we have got 11 match-winners in our team.

“We have the superstars in there, but we also have players that go under the radar but still win matches for us. That is why I believe we are an exciting team.”

Getting the balance right is the secret of T20 success for Wakely, and he feels the Steelbacks are in good shape.

“One of the keys as to why we have been so successful in recent years is that everybody has known their role,” he said.

“We have had a well-balanced team, a lot of all-rounders, lots of bowling options and we bat all the way down.

“We haven’t just won games with one particular gameplan all the time, we have varied it at times.

“Sometimes a player will come in and win it for us with the bat, sometimes the guys who haven’t bowled too much will come on and win us the game.

“That puts us in a good position, and gets the whole team confident rather than relying on one or two people all the time.

“We also have a lot of guys who like the limelight, and there is nothing bigger in the domestic game than Twenty20. You have to go out there, relish it, and show what you can do.”