Few would have bet that Northants Steelbacks would be the name etched on the Friends Life T20 trophy on Saturday.
Even fewer would have made that bet last season when the club were enduring some tough times in the shorter form of the game, winning just three out of their 26 fixtures.
Northamptonshire have gone from minnows of the county game to T20 heroes, and their transformation is due in no small part to the captaincy of Alex Wakely.
Wakely entered the side as a timid 18-year-old after an impressive spell in the Second XI, but despite an impressive debut against Somerset, he struggled for form for the rest of the season and returned to the Second XI.
However, since then he has gone on to rise through the ranks again to captain Northants in One Days and T20’s. His inspirational captaincy led the Steelbacks to victory after he claimed his side were simply “sick of losing”.
The Wantage Road outfit stormed to victory, smashing the Essex Eagles by seven wickets in the first semi-final of the day before going on to beat Surrey by a comprehensive 201 runs in the final. Prior to this weekend, their last major cup came in 1992 when they won the Friends Provident trophy.
Northants’ history meant they started the day as underdogs, but in truth their place at Finals Day was well deserved. Not only did they claim seven out of ten scalps in the Midlands, Wales & West Group, but under the guidance of coach David Ripley, they have completely revitalised their top order. That was plain for all to see against Surrey, with Wakely, Cameron White and David Willey all recording half centuries. Unlike so many captains, Wakely leads from the front, keeping the scoreboard ticking over.
Man-of-the-match Willey had not even been guaranteed a place in the line-up, but came in after Kyle Coetzer missed out through an injury to his wrist. Willey produced what may only be described as one of the greatest all-round performances ever in a T20 game, hitting 60 off just 27 balls before claiming four wickets (including a hat trick to seal victory), a run out and a catch.
Northants also sit in second in Division Two of the County Championship and will almost certainly be contenders for promotion. The club were linked with re-signing Monty Panesar after his release from Sussex, but James Middlebrook is more than qualified to lead the spin attack.
Panesar has since signed for Essex and is currently facing his old club.
The Steelbacks have had a tough decade on and off the field, but without wishing to disrespect former coach David Capel, his replacement David Ripley has brought a new outlook, a new lease of life, and a trophy – at long last.
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