The fastest fifty of the tournament and a hat trick by David Willey was enough for Northamptonshire as they registered a thumping victory over Surrey in the final of the Friends Life t20 at Edgbaston on Saturday and in the process, claimed their first major trophy since 1992.
As they walked into their first Friends Life t20 final, Northants were marginal favorites after their impressive win over Essex in the semis early on in the day. But, before the start of the season, not many would have predicted that this plucky Northants side would go this far in the competition. After all, going into the season, they had won just three of their last 27 T20s and were not even in the running to be called 'underdogs'.
But once the campaign started, imperious performances in the group stage meant that they had lost just three of their 10 games and marched into the knockout phase as one of the favorites on the back of some breathtaking bowling performances.
Their bowling was led by Azharullah, a man who nobody knew about until the start of the year, but, is the name on everybody’s lips right now as Northants scamper to ensure his signature for next season as well.
Throughout the tournament, the Northants side were the epitome of hard work and perseverance, which helped them produce they produce stellar performances against clubs which, boasted significantly larger playing budgets. In fact, the final pitted together Northants and Surrey, two clubs on the opposite end of the money scale, with Surrey being the undisputed financial giants of English county cricket.
But this was far more than a heartening tale of an underdog enjoying their moment in the sun. For a very long time, Northants meddled with mediocrity and were playing in front of a dwindling crowd, which was getting worse day by day. But now, Northants are providing a fine example of what can be achieved by smaller counties with some sound financial management and incisive coaching.
In the last 18 months, Northants have completed changed not only their coaching structure, but the culture of their club as well. With a new coach, captain and chief executive, Northants came into this season with a degree of confidence which was absent in their previous exploits.
And it is surely more than coincidence that David Ripley, who took over as coach in August 2012, was a member of the Northants side that won the NatWest Trophy in 1992, which was their last piece of silverware.
Whilst Azharullah might take all the plaudits for the season, in the final, the star of the show was, undoubtedly, David Willey, a product of the club’s own system. His recent performances have earned him a call up for the England Lions and it won’t be too long before the Three Lions themselves come calling, as they are on the lookout for a left arm seamer.
With an abundance of homegrown talent coupled with the right mix of seasoned veterans, the future certainly looks bright for the Northants and it looks as if they have finally broken the shackles of mediocrity, which was a major part of their moribund existence thus far. And have shown the world that, although money matters, it is not the only thing that does.
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