Head coach Ripley feels cricket season structure could suit Northants as they step up to division one

Pace bowler Ben Sanderson was Northants' top wicket-taker in first-class cricket in 2019
Pace bowler Ben Sanderson was Northants' top wicket-taker in first-class cricket in 2019

Head coach David Ripley says he never fails to get excited ahead of the release of the cricket fixture list - and admits this year is like 'waiting for Christmas' as Northants prepare for their return to the top flight of English cricket.

The ECB unveil the schedule for the summer of 2020 on Tuesday (Nov 26), with the County in Specsavers County Championship Division One for the first time since 2015 following their impressive promotion in September.

Northants seamer Brett Hutton

Northants seamer Brett Hutton

It has already been widely publicised how the season will be broken up.

Roughly speaking, seven Championship games will kick things off through April and May, before the Vitality Blast T20 group stages kick in ahead of the staging of the controversial new Hundred competition from mid-July to mid-August.

The 50-over One Day Cup will be played by the counties while the eight new franchises battle it out in The Hundred, before the County Championship returns to wrap things up, along with the One Day and T20 KO stages and finals days through late August and September.

There will be three rounds of Championship cricket squeezed in between the one day competitions between from the beginning of June to August 22.

Faheem Ashraf will be available to play the first half of the County Championship season, as well as the Vitality T20 Blast

Faheem Ashraf will be available to play the first half of the County Championship season, as well as the Vitality T20 Blast

The season is due to start on April 13 - a week later than in 2019 - while it is scheduled to finish on September 30 - the latest in the game's history.

It is a schedule that has drawn plenty of criticism, with the ECB being accused of sidelining the four-day game as they concentrate on The Hundred, but Ripley believes the early start in particular could be an advantage for his side as they prepare to make the step up in level.

Bowling wise, Northants' are very well stocked in the pace and seam bowling department, with the likes of Ben Sanderson, Brett Hutton, Nathan Buck, overseas player Faheem Ashraf, Blessing Muzarabani and Jack White backed up by all-rounders such as Gareth Berg and Luke Procter.

Sanderson claimed 60 wickets at 19.65 as the County finished runners-up in division two, with Hutton claiming 35 at 20 apiece, while Buck took 22 wickets, Procter 17 and Berg eight at just 19.12 in the three games he played at the end of the campaign following his move from Hampshire.

Gareth Berg

Gareth Berg

Ripley said: "I think you might possibly say the seam bowling attack is the strength of our side, and it it will be key keeping people fit.

"But we do have have all-rounders, and we could play Luke and we could play Bergy, so you could have depth there that will allow you to have five seamers on the team-sheet.

"That means nobody is getting hammered in terms of overs bowled and we can look after each other.

"It also means we have a lot of competition with Bucky (Nathan Buck), and we have Brett and Ben who have made that new ball pairing their own.

Northants head coach David Ripley

Northants head coach David Ripley

"Faheem brings something different, but that is obviously seam bowling-led as well as being an all-round package.

"So starting with Championship cricket and getting a run of games when there is maybe a bit of nibble in the wickets would suit us, and the middle of April might be a good time to play Hampshire away when Nathan Lyon's fingers are still a bit cold!

"It is really exciting, and for me, waiting for the fixtures to come out is a bit like a kid waiting for Christmas and it is always the same.

"I have been involved in the sport for nearly 40 years now and I still feel the same about that date when you look at the list to see where you are starting, where you're finishing.

"You know what venues you have to go to, and obviously being in division one makes that all the more exciting this year."

Ripley's mention of Australian spinner Lyon, who has signed on for the summer at Hampshire, is one of the main areas where the head coach believes his players are going to see a major difference next summer.

The County's spin bowling workload is set to be taken on over the summer by the likes of Rob Keogh, Saif Zaib, Josh Cobb and Tom Sole, but it is the batsmen who are going to have to prepare themselves for an upgrade in the quality of slow bowling they will face.

The likes of Lyon, England's Jack Leach at Somerset, South African Simon Harmer at Essex and Jeetan Patel at Warwickshire all offer something different, and Ripley says the step up is a challenge he and his players are looking forward to.

"We have been outlining that it is an opportunity, it is exciting, it's different, and we've not had it for several years now," said the 52-year-old.

"So it will be different to what we have been used to, and what can we do that is going to inspire a little bit extra from us.

"We have talked about spin, and I think that could be important, because there is Harmer, there's Leach, there's Patel, there's Nathan Lyon who has signed at Hampshire, and Qais Ahmad(Afghan spinner) has also signed (Gloucestershire) for the end of the season.

"There is a lot of high quality spin in the division, and I think that was at the fore last season with the success these guys had, and the number of wickets they took.

"So we might well have to prepare a little bit different with that in mind."

Ripley does feel that the season being broken up into clear sections of red and white ball cricket is something that will benefit Northants, particularly the fact the Blast qualifiers are being played all at once.

"I think having T20 cricket in blocks helps us," said the head coach.

"There was that time where it was just spinning along throughout the summer, and I don't think that helped us at all.

"We had a very small staff at the time, and it really killed us getting guys playing a T20 one night and then getting up and starting a Championship game the next day.

"That helped the teams with more depth, there is no doubt about that, so I am pleased with the formats in blocks."