Northants aiming high as they prepare to return to County Championship action
David Ripley wants Northants to aim high both individually and as a team as they prepare to round off the 2021 season with four matches in the LV= Insurance County Championship.
For the first time there are end-of-season play-offs to determine Championship places, and with Northants having qualified for division two following their Group campaign, they are competing for places seventh to 12th in the final table.
The County haven’t played any red ball cricket since mid-July, and haven’t played any first-team cricket at all since August 12.
But they kick-off their four-match run-in on Monday with a trip to Bristol to play Gloucestershire, and Ripley, who himself only returned to the club last week after a Hundred coaching stint with London Spirit, is confident the Northants players will be ready for action.
“We have got a mini pre-season this week, we had a double session on Monday and then a couple of days off,” said the head coach.
“We are back in Thursday and Friday, and will train at Gloucester on Sunday afternoon.
“Then once we start those four games it will be about getting the best out of ourselves.”
With only the teams that have qualified for division one having the chance of competing for the Championship and then the Bob Willis Trophy, there are concerns about how motivated the players from the other 12 counties will be, especially as there is no relegation jeopardy either.
But Ripley is confident Northants will be at their best.
“The preparation we have had should be good for us and get us in decent shape, and we have a real desire to finish seventh,” he insisted.
“I would much rather we were playing two division cricket and there was more on it for everybody.
“But we feel we have enough about our group to aim for that seventh spot and that would be a good return from our four-day cricket.
“Our job as a staff is to keep the lads motivated and up for it, and there is still quite a bit to play for in terms of their indivdual stats.
“Our game is a statistical one so there is always something to play for, you can average 45 and get 900 runs, or slip up and end up averaging 32.
“So we will be pushing the guys to get all we can out of the final four games of the season.”
Sunday's match will be Northants' first match in close to three weeks.
The Steelbacks’ inability to qualify for the knockout stages of the two white ball competitions and a controversial fixture schedule due to the new Hundred competition being squeezed into the calendar, means the County haven't played since their Royal London One Day Cup defeat to Leicestershire Foxes on August 12.
The County will be without left-arm seamer Wayne Parnell, who has returned home to South Africa at the end of his stint as overseas player, while Gareth Berg is not yet fit enough to return.
Berg is close to recovering from an ankle injury sustained in July, but will not travel to Bristol and will instead play for the County second team at Nottinghamshire, with a view to proving his fitness for the Surrey encounter on September 5.
In Parnell and Berg’s absence, Jack White is set to come in for only his second Championship appearance of the summer against Gloucestershire, while there could be a first red-ball match of the summer for fast bowler Brandon Glover.
Glover has not bowled a ball in anger since July 18 when Steelbacks lost to Birmingham Bears in the T20 Blast at Edgbaston.
The Netherlands international was called up to be part of the Oval Invincibles squad for The Hundred, but failed to make an appearance.
Adam Rossington and Josh Cobb are also available for County selection again after their stints with London Spirit and Welsh Fire respectively, and Rossington will skipper his first Championship game since the draw against Kent at Canterbury on June 6.
Although there has been no first-team cricket for Northants, the second team did play against Leicestershire at Desborough Town last week.
The County went down by nine wickets, but there was some time out in the field and in the middle for the likes of Emilio Gay, Ben Curran, Charlie Thurston and Simon Kerrigan.