Northants players back in winter training as they begin countdown to next summer
With the dreary and dark nights of winter having now closed in around us, the long days of summer and warm sunshine seem to be a long way away - but the Northants cricketers are already back at work and gearing themselves up for the 2020 campaign.
Having secured promotion from Specsavers County Championship Division Two at the end of September, David Ripley’s men are preparing to play in the top flight of English cricket for the first time since 2015.
The squad returned for the start of winter training last week, and will be working non-stop between now and the start of next season in April.
Some players will be travelling the world to play cricket, but the bulk of the squad will be wintering at home, and will be closely monitored as Ripley sets about ensuring his squad is as well prepared as they can be for the new campaign.
It’s a far cry from the playing days of the not so distant past, when players would return for duty at the end of March having been off for six months, and pre-season training amounted to a couple of laps of the County Ground outfield before the players hit the nets!
And it is a change in attitude and mindset that Ripley, who has now been head coach at the County Ground for seven years, welcomes.
“With the players having 12-month contracts, it means we have control of the schedule,” said Ripley.
“I think it is important they have some down time, so they have had that from the end of the season.
“They reported back for fitness testing, and Chris (Lorkin, head of strength and conditioning) gathered all his information on where they are physically at the moment.
“We actually did some of that down at the University of Northampton, as we have a partnership, and it was good. It’s a new complex and the facilities are good and it meant we got a bit more detail in some of that testing.
“Their winter schedule is now set pre-Christmas, and it is only physical work although one or two lads are ticking over with cricket, because they might be going away and be on a slightly different timeline.
“But those guys who are concentrating on going to Singapore on March 10 for pre-season training, they don’t really need to do much here if they don’t want to do it.
“We won’t ask them to do it, and we will start with the cricket in the first week of January.”
The players who are going away at various points to play cricket over the coming months include Rob Keogh, Nathan Buck, Saif Zaib and Ben Curran, while pace bowler Jack White - who signed a new one-year deal last week - is aiming to spend five weeks playing in Australia.
Also on his travels is all-rounder Gareth Berg, who next month plays for Italy in the ICC Cricket World Cup Challenge League B in Oman, where they will take on Kenya, Jersey, Uganda and Bermuda.
Berg has been preparing for that trip with Ripley at the County Ground, but he has also been joining his team-mates in some more unusual training as well - in the form of ‘hot yoga’.
The squad were invited to Ben Cohen’s SooYoga centre at Sol Central, where the Rugby World Cup winner’s partner and former Strictly star, Kristina Rihanoff, put the players through their paces.
“There was some hot yoga down at Ben Cohen’s place with Kristina, and she took the session,” said Ripley, who is always open to new ideas to keep his squad fit and healthy.
“Our sports science and medical team are really proactive.
“Barry (Goudriaan, head physio) has been here for years, but he is always someone who likes to think outside the box, and Chris is just very professional and the players have a lot of trust in him, so we are in a good spot there.
“We did a bit of yoga last year, and some of the lads didn’t enjoy it. They were trying to get it off the table, but some of those lads who didn’t enjoy it, also didn’t miss a game last season.
“But it worked pretty well last year, the lads stayed fit, and touch wood we will have that again.
“We have one or two things that we plan to do a little bit differently this year, but we don’t need to rip things up because I thought the winter work last year was good, and we were in good shape.
“There was enjoyment there, there were challenges there, the fitness targets were in place, so it is all about tweaking, trying to keep things fresh, and not throwing out what works.”