Ripley confident Northants can upset the odds
The bookies might not have Northants among the favourites for the County Championship Division Two title this season - but there is certainly a confidence within the corridors of the club that they can upset the odds.
David Ripley's men have the fifth shortest odds, with a best price of around 10/1 if you want to back the County to claim the title in four-day cricket this season.Middlesex are the favourites at 2/1 with fellow relegated side Warwickshire at 5/1.Then come Sussex and Kent.But could Northants prove to be good value for money, given the fact they won nine of their 14 matches in division two last season and only missed out on promotion by five points?"If you look at the betting, it has Middlesex, Warwickshire, Sussex and Kent before you get to Northamptonshire," said head coach Ripley. "We don't see it quite like that, but those other sides are good sides."You can go down the list with Leicester with a new coach, Glamorgan have made a good overseas signing in Shaun Marsh and invested heavily in a Kolpak strike bowler (Marchant de Lange) last year."The division will be tight - no doubt about it."Northants start their season with a trip to Lord's to take on title favourites Middlesex on Friday.Then they will host Warwickshire and Durham before travelling to Edgbaston to face Warwickshire again."We've got a tough start, playing those (relegated sides) in the first few weeks," Ripley said."We've got three out of four games against those sides who have come down so it's going to be a tough start for us."But we won nine games of cricket in the Championship last year and that's the best for quite some time."We played some brilliant cricket and we were unlucky not to be promoted, having won two more games than Notts."That's a disappointment from last year but it's also a springboard to show that we did it once and let's dust ourselves off and try to aspire to get the same level of competition and performance."Northants' squad appears even stronger this season, with Nottinghamshire bowler Brett Hutton and Lancashire all-rounder Luke Procter among the men signing on at the County Ground.The addition of Hutton means Northants have a strong bowling line-up, with skipper Alex Wakely already insisting it is one of the best around.And Ripley said: "It's going to be a tough selection."Whoever wasn't going to be selected for the first time was going to be feeling hard done by because the standard of the guys has been excellent."We've got a nice core of five very high quality seamers and we've also got Steve Crook in good form, Luke Procter who can support the seam bowlers."Gareth Wade has come back from South Africa as well so we've got some depth there."Obviously the idea of gathering a good squad is to give yourself some tough calls and we certainly prefer that."If another guy goes down, we're certainly not as competitive as we'd like to be."We've got good depth in all positions and we've seen young Ricardo Vasconcelos arrive and he is batting nicely in a couple of nets."Our squad numbers and depth are growing."And he added: "We're delighted with the lads we've signed."It's maybe a sign of how we've grown as a club because we're not just looking at lads who haven't had a contract elsewhere."These are lads who had clubs, division one clubs who wanted to keep them, and they chose to move on for various reasons: a bit more continuity for Luke, more white-ball possibilities for Brett."They've backed themselves to move and improve as players and that type of player we've signed, is a good sign for where we are as a club."Northants enjoyed a team bonding trip to Barbados last month and are now ready and raring to go this week."This is the best time of the season for me - it always is," Ripley said."Everyone has got the vibe, everyone's looking forward to the season, you haven't selected any teams, no one has been left out, everyone's supporting each other."We've got a good group but it's inevitable that when you put a teamsheet up, people are disappointed that they're not playing."Then you get the disappointment of people who aren't scoring many runs or taking many wickets but at the moment we're all on a pretty level playing field and the mood in the camp is great."The only thing we're missing at this time of year, which gets you pumped up, is the smell of the cut grass because it's been that wet that we haven't cut the grass."Once you get that smell in your nostrils, you know the season isn't far away."And what a stage to start the season on: the home of English cricket."It's great," Ripley said."I was just hoping we wouldn't be playing at Uxbridge - I've been there many a time in my playing career."I wanted us to be playing at Lord's."It's first game up and you don't normally need much getting up for the first game of the County Championship season. It's an exciting time but to be starting there will be a bit special."