Wakley wants Steelbacks to prove people wrong by beating Middlesex
Alex Wakely knows that Northants have got to be careful because at some point, pundits and opposition sides are going to start taking them seriously.
The perennial underdogs have reached the quarter-finals of the NatWest T20 Blast again, with this the third year in four that David Ripley’s men have made it past the group stages.
Lancashire Lightning, Birmingham Bears and Surrey are among the cash-rich counties with plush grounds who have failed to make it through.
But Northants, with their tight, but atmospheric ground and a group of players who are about more than just a good work ethic, have progressed again.
Not only that, but they will welcome Middlesex, the side who play their home games at Lord’s, to the County Ground for Tuesday’s last-eight tie.
And Wakely is happy for his men to be written off again, stressing how much they enjoy the siege mentality that has been instilled at Northants.
“We’ll be underdogs forever because no one ever cares, no one gives us a chance,” said the impassioned Steelbacks skipper.
“Sky didn’t even give us a live televised game before a couple of weeks ago so that showed no one really cared about us.
“If we can prove people wrong, it’s a brilliant feeling.
“I’d rather play here and play in front of 6-7,000 people rather than go to Edgbaston and play in front of the same amount and it feels like the ground’s empty.
“I love playing cricket here and there’s no better feeling than winning games of cricket here.
“It feels like we’ve got 20,000 people here.
“It will be a bit of a shock for Middlesex coming here from playing at Lord’s.
“Coming to Northants, we’ll make sure the water’s cold up there for them and they don’t have all the luxuries they’re used to.
“It’s part of cricket and we’re looking forward to it.”
The County’s citadel was breached in their most recent T20 game as Yorkshire Vikings sailed away with a 14-run win.
But the Steelbacks had done enough to secure a home tie thanks to run rate and Wakely, whose 64 from 42 balls, was key to achieving the amount of runs required to stay above Yorkshire in the standings, was delighted.
“It’s a home quarter-final again, it’s a great feeling and playing in front of our own fans is as big as anything,” he said.
“For me, the support this year has been the best I’ve played in front of at home and it’s a bit noisier, giving out some abuse, which I love.
“When we’re batting out there, you can hear them giving the fielders stick, which is perfect.”
Success in the 20-over format is something the Steelbacks players pride themselves on.
They won the tournament in 2013, beating Surrey in the final, and were runners-up to Lancashire last season.
In fact, the only time in recent years that they haven’t done so well was in 2014, when Wakely could play no part due to an Achilles injury.
“It’s a bit of a weird one for me because I was injured that year so I didn’t play,” he said.
“For me, it feels like we haven’t really lost any games.
“I haven’t even got the negative feelings from that year we lost all those games so I feel this is our tournament, the tournament we’re best at and the feeling in that dressing room is as good as it gets.
“There’s four or five players in that dressing room who could play for England and people still don’t take us seriously.
“People think we’re little old Northants and it’s brilliant that we keep getting through.
“We get so much stick and we probably don’t get the praise we deserve.”
And Wakely is also changing perceptions about his own game, having gone from anchor to attacker in recent weeks.
“Twenty20 changes,” said the 27-year-old. “I’ve been playing it for seven or eight years now and six, seven, eight years ago, 100 strike rate was pretty good.
“I’ve had to adapt my game and last winter I did a lot of practice on hitting the ball.
“David Ripley took me aside and said we had a lot of power in our team and my role would be the anchor, but if I could adapt and play the power role as well, I don’t need to change in the order.
“I could either anchor it or come in and hit fours or sixes. There’s no better feeling than hitting fours or sixes so I’m really pleased with it.”