David Ripley says Alex Wakely provides the proof that nice guys can be winners
Head coach David Ripley has paid a glowing tribute to former Northants skipper Alex Wakely, who has announced his retirement from cricket at the age of just 32.
After 14 years of representing the County at the highest level of the English domestic game, Wakely has decided to step away from playing professional sport.
He does so with his head held very high, and not just for his achievements on the field while wearing the Tudor Rose.
Nobody can take away from Wakely that he is the only captain in the history of Northamptonshire CCC to lead the club to two major titles, namely the stunning victories in the 2013 and 2016 T20 Blast at Edgbaston.
The emphatic win over Surrey in 2013 saw the club win its first silverware in 21 years.
He also led the T20 team to the runners-up spot in 2015, losing narrowly to Lancashire in the final, and there is no doubt his name will forever be etched into club folklore.
But, according to Ripley, Wakely’s influence on Northants, and English cricket in general, goes far beyond the silverware he helped to put in the Wantage Road cabinet, and all his other personal and team achievements out in the middle.
“He has been a big part of the club for such a long time, and he is just such a nice bloke, and that is kind of what everybody would say about Alex Wakely ” said Ripley, who has known the player since he walked through the doors to the academy as a young teenager in the early 2000s.
“I don’t think you would find anybody who would say anything other than that about him.
“And after being in professional sport for so long, and after being a captain as well, to still pretty much have that universal tag on you that you are one of cricket’s good guys is credit to how he has played his cricket, and how he has been in the dressing room through all that time.
“He has also had success as well of course.
“It was actually Allan Lamb who used to say ‘nice guys come second’, and I always thought that wasn’t really true, I thought that sometimes they do win.
“I knew what he was trying to say, but I always thought you don’t have to be somebody you are not, and Alex has obviously proved that as he lifted that T20 trophy up a couple of times.
“He was a massive part of those successes with his leadership, and how he played as well.”
Those leadership qualities were clear from a very early age, with Wakely quickly being tipped to be a future Northants captain.
He led the England Under-19s in the 2008 World Cup in Malaysia, a team that included the likes of Chris Woakes, Liam Dawson, Steven Finn and James Taylor.
By his early 20s he was established in the County first team, and by the age of 24 he was named the white ball skipper at Wantage Road, as well as being vice-captain to Stephen Peters in first-class cricket.
That decision to make Wakely the limited overs captain was to reap immediate dividends.
“We recognised how young he was at the time,” admitted Ripley. “When Andrew Hall stepped down, Stephen Peters was ready-made to be the captain of the club, but he wasn’t going to be a shoo-in in the T20 team.
“We needed a different strategy to cover that, and although Alex might have been on the young side in some respects, we knew the qualities that he had, and I had known him for so long.
“I was pretty sure we could make that work, and I guess the thing to live up to from his perspective was that we won the trophy in his first year.
“That was great, but it also set the bar for the rest of his leadership and there were some challenges with that.”
Wakely would go on to repeat that T20 success three years later, and although he was a respected skipper in red ball cricket when he took over in 2014, he couldn’t steer the club to promotion before he stepped down five years later.
The former Bedford School student retires with a very solid first-class record of 6,880 runs at an average of 31.27, scoring nine centuries and 37 fifties.
But Ripley admits it may be a source of some frustration for Wakely that he could have produced better numbers.
His head coach certainly believes he had the talent.
“In red ball cricket we talked regularly about him being better than his statistics,” said Ripley.
“If you saw Alex play well on any day and saw him at his best, you would think this guy is on the fringes of the England team, because that was what he was capable of.
“If you have somebody you see being able to do that, we would then have to challenge ourselves as to why we haven’t got him to play like that more often.
“Something that Al would probably look at is the number of hundreds he got, because he got stuck for a while not being able to get them and it became a bit of an issue for him.
“He would get his 50s but then not be able to go on and get a century, and you only have to change a couple of those 50s, and perhaps go on to get a 150, and perhaps those statistics would look better.
“In white ball cricket he has been terrific for the club and has done all he can do with his batting there.
“But I guess in red ball cricket he may reflect that he would have liked a few more in the 100s column.”
Wakely has now taken the decision to step away from cricket though, and Ripley says it is the right decision that the father of two looks after himself, and his young family.
“Alex is very young to be making this call,” he said.
“He is one of the fittest members of our squad, he is in very good shape physically, but there are bigger things than cricket.
“I have seen plenty of people that have moved out of cricket and found other things that have kept them going, kept their interest and seen them able to look after their families and enjoy it.
“In cricket, we are in a bit of a bubble at times, and I am sure that Al is going to be very successful in whatever he does.
“He is likeable, he is sensible, and he is an intelligent lad.”
At 32, Wakely could have had another five to 10 years in his locker as a professional cricketer, but Ripley insists the decision he has come to this week ‘has to be right’.
“It is a brave call,” said the 54-year-old. “But you don’t make decisions like that lightly do you?
“Especially when you still have plenty to offer.
“It just shows the magnitude of the decision, and therefore it has to be right.
“Also, if he has been carrying this around with him a little bit as well, wondering who he can tell or not tell, when it is all off his chest then hopefully he will start feeling a lot better as well.
“And then he will be able to move forward.”