Sadler says Northants can make their mark in county cricket's top flight
Head coach John Sadler is backing his Northants team to hold their own against the cream of English cricket in the top flight of the LV= Insurance County Championship next summer.
The County were confirmed as a division one team by the England & Wales Cricket Board last week, with the domestic structure returning to a two-division system following two seasons of a three-conference format due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 18 first-class counties voted to go back to the schedule that had been agreed for the pre-Covid 2020 summer, with Northants taking their place in the top flight having won promotion from division two.
It means that in 2022 Northants will be competing against the big boys of English cricket, including recently-crowned county champions Warwickshire, and the title winners from 2020 and 2019, Essex.
Also in the mix are the likes of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Somerset Hampshire and Surrey, along with Gloucestershire and Kent, with two of the 10 teams being relegated at the end of the campaign.
It guarantees a challenging start to life as the boss for Sadler, who took over from long-standing head coach David Ripley last month, but he is relishing the opportunity.
“It is great news, fantastic, because we all want to be in division one and we all want to play and challenge ourselves against the best,” said Sader. “And now have the opportunity to do that.
“It was before my time, but the club did so well to get promoted that year (2019) that I think it is only fair that they get a chance to have a crack at it. But it will be tough.
“There are some good players and some brilliant teams out there, but that is fantastic, it is exciting and what gets you out of bed in the morning.
“Nobody wants to play in dead rubber games, and every game we play next year is going to have some meaning on it, and some big competition.
“I think that is a real driver, and hopefully a real driver for the lads when they are doing their work in November, December and January and building things up.
“We have that focus now which is fantastic.
“It is brilliant for the club, it is what they deserve, and hopefully we can put in a good stint and upset and beat some of those teams.
“Every game will have meaning to it and that is what we want, there will be no dead games, no dead rubbers, and we know that if we play to our best then we can beat any of those teams.
“Sustaining that over the course of a long season is going to be tough, but we have the players to do it, and hopefully we can put on a good show.”
Northants endured a difficult end to their red-ball summer in 2021 in terms of their batting.
They played Essex in their final game and were bowled out for 81 and 45, and were also dismissed for totals of less than 200 (183, 171, 129) in each of the three games prior to that, although one of those did end with Northants scoring 322 in the fourth innings to beat Surrey.
And Sadler feels the lower totals are down to a lack of consistency rather than ability, and also the fact some of the players were struggling at the back end of a long and gruelling season.
“It is probably just the consistency that was an issue,” said the head coach.
“A lot of the lads played every single day of the season in all three formats, and that does take its toll if we don’t look after them, monitor them, and give them the support they need. It can be a very long season.
“There were glimpses there and there were signs of some brilliant stuff, and in the third to last game of the season we batted against Surrey and knocked off a brilliant score to win under pressure.
“That was a fantastic achievement, so I think it is just the consistency. We did show some brilliant signs through the season, but we also showed some signs of not being at our best.
“So I think if we can narrow that gap between our best and worst performance, and improve our consistency, then I think that will stand us in good stead.
“I think it was a little bit like that throughout the country though, I think a lot of teams showed that inconsistency, and the nature of a county season is that it is a tough grind.
“Certain players will have learned more from last season than they probably realise, because you learn more when you have a tough spell than what you do when you are flying high.
“I am sure they will come back strong, and there is going to be some good competition for places, which is healthy as well.”