On-field foes Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire united in promotion after rain-hit draw

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Sep
26

Gloucestershire 220 for 7 (van Buuren 93, Charlesworth 77*) drew with Northamptonshire

As non-Test match grounds with English coaches and only five seasons in the first division between them, Northamptonshire and Gloucestershire share much that is unfashionable about cricket. That makes success all the sweeter when it comes. And so, with dual promotion secured and rain lashing the County Ground, players mingled in the home dressing room like brethren rather than opponents as they quenched considerable thirsts with smiles, joy, and a lot of noise.

By the time the Northants coach left Nevil Road at around one, their mood was distinctly merry. A few minutes later, more than three hours now after the game had been abandoned as a draw, the sun started to beat down and the Gloucester players emerged to drop anchor on the sticky dog of a pitch for selfies and a few more beers. A long day’s journey into night lay ahead.

David Ripley and Richard Dawson are the longest serving head coaches on the county circuit, appointed in August 2012 and January 2015 respectively. Ripley captained Northants when they were relegated in 2001, then took them up and brought them down in his present role in 2013-14. Dawson was actually playing against Gloucestershire, for Yorkshire, when they last went up in 2003. They dropped back down two years later.

Next summer will bring a huge challenge for both, though it would be wrong to think of this season as the easy bit. The campaign has been intense, of toil, nerves and sacrifice, of a few wins but the need at times to bounce back. Three weeks ago, as many as five teams were challenging to follow Lancashire into the top flight. Northants and Gloucester were rewarded only on the final day, and then with help from the weather in Durham.

The coaches speak with the same pragmatism. They are both Yorkshiremen, born roughly 30 miles apart in Doncaster and Leeds respectively, and Dawson acknowledges how his upbringing has shaped his approach.

Asked whether Gloucester had become institutionalised in the second division after so long, he said: “If I’d have thought that, I wouldn’t have come. I always wanted to be ambitious and shift us up. I don’t know whether people believed me when I said that on day one, in 2015, but if you are raised in Yorkshire, four-day cricket is your bread and butter. It’s just that Gloucester, 20 years ago say, were great at the white-ball game. They’ve had a rich red-ball history as well, but more recently it has been white-ball competitions.

“I’ve said since I came that we’ve got players who have done really well in 50-over and T20 cricket. That’s division one teams mixed with division two, so it shows we can do it against any opposition. The difference with red ball is that you have to do it for four days at a go, it’s mentally very taxing and that’s why this is a big achievement. It has become harder and harder to get promoted with more money coming into the game and the Test counties getting in the players.”

Dawson believes that the roots go back well beyond April. He said: “Basically, it has been two or three years trying to become harder to beat and when we do get the opportunity, nail it. We’ve talked about being ahead after one innings each, especially at Bristol. That gives us the chance to push through, which we did twice at Cheltenham, or draw and salvage some bonus points.”

Ripley, like Dawson, has drummed in the worth of attritional cricket. “I think we will have depth in the order next season, but none of them scored 1,000 runs this,” he admitted. “[Ricardo] Vasconcelos might have done if he’d played all the games and he is a talented young player. It could be Alex Wakely or Rob Newton or Richard Levi, we could do with one of them having the season of their lives. We have some naturally aggressive batsmen, it is a matter of them finding the balance between what the team needs and what they are used to doing.”

Name-checking Wakely is particularly interesting. At the end of May, he stepped down as captain. Adam Rossington, his successor, has been unbeaten since. “Much as I’d worked with Alex for a long time and have a lot of respect for him as a young man, I’ve seen him have those battles with lack of success because I’ve had them myself,” Ripley said.

“It wasn’t forced, but it just released Alex a bit and gave somebody else with a different personality a chance. Adam isn’t very animated and doesn’t say much, but he is pretty firm on the field. If they don’t bowl well, he just takes them off, where Alex perhaps doesn’t have that ruthlessness. But Alex has batted very well these past few weeks albeit without getting a big score.”

Gloucestershire had more batsmen with bigger aggregates, led by captain Chris Dent passing 1,000 runs. This partly reflects the easy-paced, Bristol pitch. Results are more important than personal landmarks and the county are investigating whether they can again play a third Championship game at Cheltenham, a money-spinner as well as a magnet for cricket lovers. The problem may be a clash between fixtures and the school term.

“It is great to be promoted, but if we are getting hammered on a Friday night by Derbyshire and Leicestershire, I’d be asking myself, ‘where did that 35 grand go?”

Northamptonshire coach David Ripley

Dawson does not anticipate a winter of many arrivals. “We don’t get prize money for coming third,” he said. “We aren’t going to add masses because we haven’t the money, and that isn’t me moaning. We have the players here who have stood up and played good cricket when they’ve been given the opportunity. Now they’ll have the opportunity to do it at another level.”

Northants are a step ahead after securing their main overseas player in Faheem Ashraf, the Pakistan all-rounder, for all cricket until the end of the T20 Blast. Ripley thinks that Ashraf will add pace to a bowling attack otherwise strong on skill and discipline. But the coach himself will miss part of the season when he serves alongside Darren Berry and Dimitri Mascarenhas as assistant coaches of Shane Warne’s Hundred team based at Lord’s.

Talks to bring Darren Stevens to Wantage Road in a coaching capacity ended when he re-committed as a Kent player following a dream end to the season. Having signed Gareth Berg from Hampshire, Ripley thinks the playing staff is almost complete and that money still in the budget may go on a 20-over player. “It is great to be promoted,” he said. “But if we are getting hammered on a Friday night by Derbyshire and Leicestershire, I’d be asking myself, ‘where did that 35 grand go?'”

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