T20 FINALS DAY: Brilliant Steelbacks relish punching above their weight

Northants celebrate their 2013 T20 success at Edgbaston
Northants celebrate their 2013 T20 success at Edgbaston
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When Northants fans arrive at Edgbaston for finals day on Saturday, they should spare a thought for all those who couldn’t be there.

Spare a thought for the team who reside in that plush stadium.

For Ian Bell’s Birmingham Bears, who have a sizeable budget but who didn’t even reach the quarter-finals of the T20 
competition.

Spare a thought for Jason Roy’s Surrey, who also failed to make it through their group, despite being able to call on the services of world stars such as Kumar Sangakkara and Aaron Finch.

Spare a thought for Lancashire Lightning, who won the tournament last year but who couldn’t get through the North Group this time round.

And then the Steelbacks supporters should turn their attentions to their own side and think about why they are there.

The first few paragraphs of this piece are not meant as a criticism to the likes of Birmingham and Surrey.

Instead, they are meant to highlight just what an achievement it has been for Northants to make it to finals day for the third time in four seasons.

They have been so consistent in this competition - the most consistent side of the lot in recent years.

And yet they are a county with a shoestring budget, with some players who were forced to do other jobs to help fund them while they pursued a cricket dream.

Ben Sanderson, who has played for the Steelbacks in the competition this season, was on a building site doing dry-lining a couple of years ago after being released by Yorkshire.

Moin Ashraf, who played a big part in some important North Group wins, feared his cricket career might be over after being let go by the same county.

And Richard Gleeson, one of the stars of this campaign, was delivering leaflets at a women’s match in his role as a community coach at Lancashire Cricket Board on the eve of the quarter-final victory against Middlesex.

All of their difficult times have made them appreciate what they have at Northants.

And the same can be said for the rest of the players, who were shrouded in financial uncertainty at the start of the season.

But, just like their neighbours Northampton Town Football Club - or the Cobblers as we know them - they came out the other side and were better for the experience.

They don’t have the budget of teams such as Birmingham and Surrey, but they do have the talent, even if it hasn’t been showcased on the national stage that often.

And, crucially, they have that extra desire and team spirit needed to win tight matches and to consistently get over the line.

What they also have is composure and a knowledge of how to perform in knock-out matches, and they shrugged off any pressure to cruise past Middlesex in the quarter-final.

That seven-wicket win was another display of what this team can produce and what it means to the fans, who packed into the quaint, atmospheric County Ground.

Talk about franchise cricket all you like, but that would struggle to replicate the hunger people have for a Friday night watching the Steelbacks.

They, like the Cobblers and the Northampton Saints, have shown what Northampton is all about in recent years.

When their backs are against the wall, they come out fighting.

The video of the dressing room sing-a-long of club song The Fields of Green, also used by the Cobblers, showed how much pride there is in the shirt.

No matter whether the players come from Semilong or Sri Lanka, they embrace what Northants is all about.

And that is why the Steelbacks are at finals day.