Ripley: Northants can compete in Championship's top division
Northants head coach David Ripley insists the club have a squad capable of competing in division one of the Specsavers County Championship.
Having been bottom of the table in June, the County confirmed their incredible turnaround to seal promotion with a draw at Bristol in the final week of the season.
Attention now turns to plotting a route to survival in the top flight in 2020.
The county’s three previous division one campaigns have all ended in immediate relegation, but Ripley says this current squad is better prepared to make the step up.
Evidence was provided earlier this season when Northants forced Lancashire into a final-day rearguard to avoid defeat at the County Ground.
“They won the league comfortably, they’re a division one club but they came to Northampton, we got on top and they didn’t like it,” said Ripley.
“That’s something I’ll be reinforcing that we’re capable of slugging it out with division one teams.”
Chief cause for optimism is the bowling attack, led by Ben Sanderson who took 60 wickets at an average of 19.65 this season.
Now, 10 years after being released by Yorkshire, he will get a crack at division one.
“Ben is a great story,” said Ripley. “He was out of the game before we picked him up and I’m really pleased he’s found this success.
"I love working with him and seeing him bowl, he’s a great bloke to have in our side and he sets the bar very high.
“He encapsulates how the season was transformed. He was bowling well - as we were generally playing quite well - but without the rub of the green. Then he started finding those edges and he raced to another huge haul of wickets.”
Keeping Sanderson fit will be essential to Northants' chances in division one.
He dovetailed to at-time devastating effect with Brett Hutton, who, having missed the first four Championship matches with an ankle injury, returned to take 35 wickets at exactly 20.
“Brett’s return helped us really build that relentlessness with the ball and he was often doing those hard yards into the wind too," Ripley said.
"We’re confident with those two and the group of bowlers we’ve got that we’ll threaten division one batsmen.
“We just need to challenge our batsmen to go and show what talented players they are and go and have a great season.
"We need lads to continue to develop and improve and show their quality in a more intense environment.
“I’m sure we’ll all have our dream about winning the Championship for the first time, why wouldn’t you?
"But the reality is that we’ve been up three times and come straight back down so just staying in division one will be our first aim.
"I look at our squad and think that is achievable.”
Promotion completed a four-year turnaround for Northants.
Following relegation without a single victory in 2014, a number of senior players like James Middlebrook and David Sales left the club and the focus switched to white-ball cricket.
The county were labelled as short-form specialists but they have successfully rebuilt their red-ball side.
“I see Championship cricket as a barometer of where you are as a club,” said Ripley.
“We’ve had T20 success and that’s obviously fantastic but to beat someone over four days you’ve got to have more bases covered than the opposition.
"It’s the purest format and we’ve shown we’re a good side.
“After coming down we lost a lot of experience so we’ve had to reinvigorate and credit to the club to make that happen.
"We’ve now got some depth in our squad and we can be competitive.
“Last time we were in division one we didn’t play very well at all and it was a bit of a non-event for us and our supporters so hopefully we can create some better memories."