What lies ahead for Northamptonshire County Cricket Club in 2012?
After narrowly missing out on promotion in two of the last three seasons the squad is keen to go a step further and get the club to Division One.
It’s been a difficult few months for all at the club with well advertised financial problems and the new chief executive having to make decisions that, ideally, he would not wish to make but that were necessary for the survival of the club.
Our pre-season tour to South Africa was cancelled but thankfully the weather back in Northampton has been excellent and the ground staff have produced good pitches for practice.
Myself and Stephen Peters had a very enjoyable 10-day trip to Abu Dhabi where we were selected for the MCC and both gained valuable match time in blistering sunshine topping 39 degrees.
It has been a strange winter for me with me being left out of an Ireland team for the first time since my debut 10 years ago.
This was due to my participation in the Bangladesh Premier League the newest t20 competition in the cricketing world.
Ireland have qualified for the t20 World Cup and now it’s up to me to force my way back into the national side through weight of runs for the Steelbacks.
We are without David Lucas this season who has moved on to Worcester so a big responsibility will be with David Willey to continue to impress with his all round skills.
Con de Lange, a South African left-arm spinner and batsman, has joined the ranks and will provide support for for our main spinner James Middlebrook.
The boys really got their heads down with some of the younger lads training in Northampton all winter and can’t wait to show the members and supporters what they can do.
So, to help you out with knowing who is who, here’s a brief round-up of the squad.
Andrew Hall: Captain and all-rounder. Brings stability to the batting line-up in the middle order and gives control with his medium pace. One of the best slip fielders in the country. Nickname: Hally.
Stephen Peters: Our best batsman in terms of technique who sets the tone at the top of the order.An excellent professional and has a superb record for the County. Excellent in and around the dressing-room – apart from when he gets a rough decision. A real joker in the sheds the Essex boy is also a very fine fielder. Nickname: Geezer or Pedro.
Ben Howgego: A big season ahead for Ben as he strives to make the opener’s spot his own. Has been involved with the club for a number of years and has come through the academy. A well-organised left-handed batsman who enjoys the battle. Ben has been working extremely hard over the winter months on his fitness and his batting. The youngster enjoys stroking his hair and looking in the mirror when not batting or doing his beloved weights.Nickname: Benni.
Rob Newton: One of the most talented players to come through the academy in years. Small in stature but immensely powerful – especially off the back foot. Rob already has a first-class century under his belt and many more lie ahead for the County. A real prospect for England in the future and has been working hard over the winter in the gym with our fitness trainer. Loves football and supports Newcastle. Nickname: Newts or Ewok.
Alex Wakely: A excellent batsman who played well last year in all formats and will want to turn some of those impressive 50s into big hundreds and catch the eye of the England hierarchy. Alex bats in a very traditional way in four-day cricket and can hit it a long way in limited-overs stuff. Useful off spin at times. Nickname: Baby Seal.
David Sales: The Northants legend pulls into the car park for season number 19. And it could be one of the most important of his career. The hard-hitting batsman is in great shape and playing really well. We all hope this year will see David back to his devastating best. Great banter in the sheds and fantastic slip fielder. Nickname: Jumble.
Rob White: Another batsman who has a very important season ahead. Rob, whose highest score of 277 shows his immense talent, will hope to refind the form of a couple of seasons ago when he steps out on the park this year. Bowls good leggies and shows excellent footie skills while in the field! A very smart guy who makes a very good curry. Nickname: Chalkie.
James Middlebrook: James had a great season last year with both bat and ball. I enjoyed batting with him in the lower order as he plays the aggressive brand of cricket we enjoy at Northants. Will lead the spin department again. A top lad but one who does enjoy a moan (he is a Yorkie after all) Nickname: Midders or Dog.
Chaminda Vaas: Our world-class opening bowler returns for a third stint at the club and is still one of the best swing bowlers in the country. A hugely important cog in our wheel and we all will be keeping our fingers and toes crossed he has an injury-free season. Useful lower-order bat and all-round gentleman. Nickname: Vassy.
Jack Brooks: Jack has been a huge success since his emergence from Minor Counties cricket. A fast bowler with plenty of skill with the new ball who has been away all winter with England Lions. An ex-housemate of mine with a love for Mexican food. Can play some interesting shots when batting and likes to think he’s a better bat than Lee Daggett. Nickname: Brooksy or Ferret.
David Willey: A very talented all-round cricketer who has the big boots of David Lucas to fill. A strong left-armer and left-hand bat with immense power, we have high hopes for Dave both at Northants and possibly England. The hardest worker in the side and a man who loves his fitness. Has spent the last two months in Perth sunning himself on the beach whilst playing cricket. Nickname: Ethel or Conaldo.
Lee Daggett: Lee has been around the game for about 10 years. We played for Kent Seconds together a long time ago and I was delighted to see him play so well last year. A thouroughly nice chap who bowls a nagging line and length. His batting has improved a lot and he will fight it out with Brooksy for the number 10 spot. Nickname: Dagentooth.
Con de Lange: A new recruit from South Africa where he has played a fair amount of cricket. He will be heavily relied upon in one-day cricket to bowl tidy left-arm spin and bat down the order. Will compliment Midders well when wickets suit in Championship cricket. Nickname: Goose.
David Murphy: David is a messy, clumsy but very popular player in our squad. Another resident of ‘Steelback Castle’ the club’s house on the ground, David is a skilful gloveman especially up to the stumps and scores his runs in his own way down the order. Nickname: Murf.
Kyle Coetzer: Kyle is a big player in our batting line-up and was a shrewd signing by our coach at the back end of 2011. A popular lad and a rival of mine when he plays for Scotland. Kyle will bat time for us and should score plenty of runs at number three. Nickname: Meergoose.
Rob Keogh: Rob has a big job to oust James Middlebrook as the off-spinner in our four-day team but should push hard for a limited-overs position with his useful batting, bowling and excellent fielding skills. Nickname: Keysie.
Luke Evans: Luke has had a back operation and will be out of action for a while. The Durham lad will come back strongly. Can bowl fast – just ask the boys in the nets. A keen pilot and is currently doing his exams. Not sure I would fancy being a passenger in a plane with him at the wheel, though, as I’ve seen him play darts and his direction leaves a lot to be desired. Nickname: Evo.
Sam Sweeney: The Lancashire lad is a promising bowler who is very different from everything else we have in our squad and should compliment our attack well. Nickname: The.