Northants' progress overshadowed by dispute

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Northants must put their off-field difficulties off the field if they are to challenge for promotion this season.

The Wantage Road side drew some unwanted attention on Friday, when former chief executive David Smith was denied entry to their Natwest T20 Blast win over Lancashire.

The incident overshadowed what was otherwise a thrilling match and an important step forward for the Steelbacks in this year’s tournament. The board has so far refused to comment on the reasons for Smith being turned away. His son was permitted to watch without him. 

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The former Warwickshire batsman has told ESPNcricinfo that he had previously thought his departure in December of last year had been on “excellent terms”.

Financial struggle

Admittedly, his reign at the helm of the Steelbacks was not always straightforward. While he oversaw their victory in the T20 Cup in 2013, as well as promotion to Division One, the following season they were relegated without winning a match.

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That led Smith to publicly shame his side’s senior batsmen, as it became clear that the board was under increasing strain. Their woeful streak was also accompanied by financial trouble.

Northants are far from the only major county to be hit by losses, but as one with a relatively small turnover, it was feared that relegation could have a devastating effect.

Graeme Swann’s retirement also lost them a great deal in performance-related bonuses, even though the spinner left the county in 2005.

Financially, Northants may be doing all they can to stay afloat, but if they are to focus on getting back into the top flight, they also need to put issues with former members of the board aside.

Azharullah and Kleinveldt star

On the field, there have been plenty of positive signs for the fifth-placed county. Muhammad Azharullah led the attack as the county took control against Kent in the County Championship, after the first day was washed out.

Azharullah – who also took the final wicket to seal the win in Friday’s T20 – took six wickets, but has since been surpassed by South African Rory Kleinveldt, who was been in fine form, taking seven.

The fact that they have coped so well in the absence of star man David Willey, who has been batting New Zealand in England’s ODI series, suggests that there is potential to push on this season. It will be far easier for that to happen if the club as a whole is able to focus on events on the field without distraction.

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