David Willey’s latest run of impressive performances for Northants has raised fears around Wantage Road that the Steelbacks may not be able to hold onto the promising batsman.
The 24-year-old is now even being linked with England, a suggestion that would have been unthinkable just a year ago. However, that was before his pivotal role in lifting last year’s Friends Life T20 cup, and his latest innings saw him his a phenomenal 94 off just 45 balls to help his side to a two-wicket victory over Leicestershire in the inaugural Natwest T20 Blast.
Any England call-up would be presumably be for ODIs, as he continues to develop his game in the County Championship. In the shorter forms of the game, though, he looks close to being the finished article.
Willey is particularly crucial to Northants’ hopes of retaining the cup this season, while regular limited overs captain Alex Wakely misses the entirety of the season with an Achilles injury picked up before a single ball was bowled.
However, the attention Willey is attracting is not entirely welcome, as Northants have a history of losing out on some of the biggest names to develop out of their academy. Most famously, Graeme Swann started his career at the County Ground before moving on to Nottinghamshire, and he enjoyed some of his best days as England spinner after moving to Trent Bridge.
Fellow spinner Monty Panesar also moved on to Sussex, and then Essex, after making his name, while former England batsman Mal Loye spent nine years perfecting his sweep shot before transferring to Lancashire.
Head coach David Ripley will be particularly alert this season, though, for any potential suitors, as this has been a season where a number of former Steelbacks have come back to haunt their old club. Old boy Riki Wessels helped Notts to race home by an innings and 10 runs, with a speedy knock of 158 off 152 balls before eventually being dismissed by Mohammed Azharullah. In fairness, Notts have fought tooth and nail to secure Wessels’ signature, having to obtain a new visa via a legal loophole after the one he had used at Northants expired.
Yorkshire’s Jack brooks had a similar effect when he faced Northants, taking 5-36 to skittle his forme team mates out for 84, and the White Rose were also not required to bat again.
Most importantly, however, these success stories, along with that of Willey, highlight a youth policy at Northants that does not receive nearly enough credit. Both Ripley and his predecessor David Capel have undoubtedly been instrumental in developing the careers of these young players, many of whom have gone on to achieve great feats on the international stage. Regarding Willey, Ripley will simply be hoping those feats are representing Northants.
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