LOOKING BACK: Alex Wakely's 2013 T20 Finals Day Q&A part two - Steelbacks stun Surrey's city slickers...

With this week’s Looking Back feature, we take the chance to revisit one of the greatest days in the history of Northamptonshire CCC... and we are going to do it in two parts.

By Jeremy Casey
Friday, 12th June 2020, 10:15 am
Updated Friday, 12th June 2020, 10:18 am
Northants Steelbacks celebrate their T20 Final success
Northants Steelbacks celebrate their T20 Final success

In August 2013, the Steelbacks claimed the club’s first piece of major silverware for 21 years when they won the Friends Life T20 at Edgbaston, seeing off Essex Eagles in the semis and then Surrey in the final.

Chron sports editor Jeremy Casey spoke with Alex Wakely, the Steelbacks skipper on the day, and in this second instalment he takes us through the build up to the final itself, and that stunning performance against a star-studded Surrey outfit...

JC: So, Essex are seen off with seven wickets and 11 balls to spare in the semi-final, how did the squad deal with the break while the second match between Surrey and Hampshire was played?

AW: “It was unchartered territory for us, and the way we always deal with T20 Finals Day is that you worry about it step by step.

“The physio and management might have their plans, but for us it was ‘okay, what do we do now?’ Half of the lads went back to the hotel, and some had a swim.

"Some of the players’ girlfriends were there, so some went off for a cup of coffee to try and get away from it, and I actually went back to the hotel to try and get some sleep - but it didn’t work, there was no chance I was sleeping.

“We then watched the second half of the other game in the hotel, and when it got to the last few overs we started making our way back down to the ground.

Alex Wakely celebrates reaching his 50

“The hardest part is that the turnaround is so quick. Normally for a T20 game you have your routines and set times to go through things, but for the final it was more or less turn up, get changed, do the toss and get out there and play.”

JC: There was also rain about on the day, which I wouldn’t think was ideal...

AW: “No, we then had a delayed start, and I remember sitting in the Edgbaston changing rooms, which were relatively new then, and there was so much nervous energy in the there.

“You are about to play a final, you have a lot of youngsters who are so excited about playing, and then we are not allowed to get out there. That was a weird time...”

Alex Wakely shows off the T20 trophy

JC: Leading up to the final, there was also a selection issue to be dealt with, with Kyle Coetzer missing out. That must have been tough to deal with as captain?

AW: “It was an injury, as Kyle had been suffering with his wrists for a period of time, and he came to us.

"When I got back to the ground from the hotel, Rips (David Ripley) called me over and said ‘look, Kyle is not great’, so I went and had a chat with Kyle and he broke down in tears.

“He made the call himself that he wasn’t fit and that he just couldn’t play, and it was horrible.

David Willey celebrates bowling future England team-mate Jason Roy

“As a captain, speaking to people about team selection, and about dropping people is tough, but when somebody who has been key for you throughout the tournament and wants to play so much, but then can’t and breaks down in front of you was terrible.

“But it was Kyle who made that call.”

JC: That meant a reshuffle, so who was it who made the call to promote David Willey to open the batting?

AW: “I can’t say who actually made the call with Willo, but I am assuming it was Rips, but what a decision that was!

“Willo always wanted to do it, and back then he was a seriously talented cricketer, but he just had no idea how to build an innings or a game, he would just swing the bat.

“I think that innings that night made him realise that he could actually bat, that he wasn’t just a slogger, but he was a proper striker of a cricket ball.”

Mohammed Azharullah celebrates claiming a wicket

JC: Coming up against a star-studded Surrey side in the final ensured the Steelbacks were big underdogs, is that how you and the team saw it too?

“All I remember about going into that final was, it was Surrey. It was the old enemy.

"The London boys, a club with loads of money and we were at polar opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of the cricketing world. We certainly used that as a motivational tool.

“During the day I must have had to answer dozens of journalists, who said ‘do you enjoy the underdog tag?’ But leading up to that day I hadn’t even thought about it, we were just going out and playing cricket.

“But looking back on it, we did use that underdog tag and we thrived on it.

“We went under the radar, we never had too much press around, not that many of our games were on TV, and we used it.

“Surrey were a team full of international superstars, and you all want to beat the best players, and that was certainly a driving force.”

JC: The Steelbacks batted, and Richard Levi fell fairly early, but then there were three pretty much perfect T20 innings from Willey, White and yourself as the Steelbacks scored an amazing 194 for two in just 18 overs, with the match length reduced because of the rain.

AW: “We couldn’t have played a better innings as a squad. Everything went our way.

“Throughout the whole year, Cameron White hardly got out. He was so consistent, and was almost like an old school anchor, but in T20 cricket style in that he would get himself to 30 fairly easily, and then cash in and be 60 not out at the end. He did that regularly.

“When Willo got out, because we had got off to such a good start, I could come in at what is the easiest time to bat, because you know you can just come in with no pressure, and keep the momentum going.”

JC: Facing such a big total, Surrey had to go at it from the start, and although they were hitting boundaries, they were also losing wickets. Did you feel in total control?

AW: “In those first five overs, you know that anything can happen, and they are going to come out all guns blazing, but we got a couple of early wickets and suddenly we were right on top of them.

“It was then a case of making sure you are on it, making that diving stop, taking that diving catch, this was the time to do that because finals are where names are made.

“People were saying ‘if little old Northants can beat Surrey this will be remembered for a long time’, and that was the message when we went out to field.

“We got those early wickets, and things kept falling into place. Surrey couldn’t build an innings and they kept losing wickets. Yes, the ball was still flying to the boundary, but it is always going to when you are chasing 190.

“I don’t think we ever believed we had enough though, or at least I certainly didn’t!

“But I remember when they were about seven wickets down, the umpire, Neil Mallender, saying to me ‘Wakers, just soak this up a little bit’.

"Now, old umpires do that at times, but this was an old Northants man as well.

“He told me just to take a minute to soak the moment up, because these things don’t happen all of the time. And I got to my position in the field and just looked around, and what a feeling that was."

JC: It was one of those bowling performances where everybody contributed, that must have been pleasing?

“That summed up the whole season, because everybody contributed at key moments throughout the year.

“The final was just the perfect game in that sense, the batters did their job, the bowlers did their job, we were perfect in the field, and then you have the wicket-keeper David Murphy taking the catch to win the game.

“That summed it up for me, the man who had got no real credit through the year, hadn’t seemingly done too much, but for me he was the best gloveman in the tournament.

“He used to stand up to Azharullah, David Willey, and that made a massive difference to us. It was the icing on the cake for me that he took that catch.”

JC: Now, the way the game ended... they were seven wickets down and you must have known you had done the job, but then there was the extra, spectacular twist of the David Willey hat-trick at the end... That must have been an incredible moment?

AW: “It encapsulated everything. When you look back on it, it was quite one-sided and we won the game by a big stretch, but it didn’t feel like that at the time because I was very nervous the whole way through.

“That was the start of Willo’s journey to becoming an England cricketer wasn’t it? It put him into the headlines.

“He was the star man and everybody wanted a piece of him, and after the game, once we had popped the Champagne and sang the team song, we had to go and do the press conference, and it was me, Rips and Willo, because he was man of the match.

“Me and Rips walked in, but Willo wasn’t with us! We thought, ‘what’s happened here? Where is he?’.

“Anyway, he staggered in about five minutes later, a beer in both hands, smacked his beer on the front of the table and it just summed up everything about Northants at the time.

“We were the little old underdogs, we didn’t know how to celebrate, it had never happened to us before, and the I think that’s why the media loved it so much, because of Willo doing that.

“You had all of the high-end media in there, and that sold Northants to everybody I think.”

JC: You mentioned singing the club song at the trophy presentation, what is the story of that?

AW: "We sang it on the podium, and what we were told afterwards is that we were the first team to ever sing a club song up there!

"It wasn't planned, it was just that we had got used to singing that song as we won matches through the tournament.

"We started to believe in Northamptonshire, and we started to believe in ourselves, and that song started meaning more to us.

"To me growing up, I didn't know what the song meant, I came into the dressing room and we just sang it.

"Whereas in 2013, it encapsulated everything about being a Steelback, the fields are green and everything about it, it made every person in the dressing room who we were doing it for.

"All the people who had played before us, and it made us proud to be a Northamptonshire player. When we won it, it just came out."

JC: Once the press conference was done and dusted, I presume the celebrations got into full swing?

AW: “The two hours after the end of the game, in the dressing room, with all the people there and your nearest and dearest, family, board members, I will remember that for the rest of my life.

“That is what we play sport for, and it was special and is about everything you have worked for.

“Both in 2013 and 2016, the two hours after game were what sport is all about, not the parties, not the driving home afterwards, it’s the couple of hours when you are genuinely celebrating together as a group.

“There was a lot of singing, and I think it might have been Cameron White’s birthday as well, and it was just great.

"We actually played a one day game at Edgbaston afterwards and we were in the same changing room - and all the Champagne from the celebrations was still on the ceiling!”

JC: So, the Steelbacks had claimed a first trophy for the club since 1992, and it was a massive moment for the club, and for you as a captain?

AW: “Growing up I played with some great players, some of the best players the club has had.

“I was so lucky to play with them, but it was never about winning.

“Because in cricket we play so much throughout the year, you kind of forget sometimes what you are playing for, and you look at individual statistics, but suddenly we had a belief back at the club that Northants weren’t just the whipping boys.

“That Northants weren’t just there to make up the numbers, we were here and we could compete with, and beat, the big boys.

“Everything around the club from then on, even until now, we believe that we belong there.

“It changed the mentality, the way the coaches come across, the way the board members come across, the way the club is run in general. It ensured the club had the belief back that we could be competitive.”

MATCH FACTS

FRIENDS LIFE T20 FINALS DAY

August 17, 2013, Edgbaston, Birmingham

FINAL

NORTHANTS STEELBACKS v SURREY

(match reduced to 18 overs per side due to rain)

Northants Steelbacks: 194-2 in 18 overs (Willey 60, Wakely 59no, White 54no)

Surrey: 92 all out in 13.3 overs (Maxwell 29, Willey 4-9, Crook 2-26)

Northants Steelbacks won by 102 runs

Man of the Match: David Willey

David Willey celebrates claiming his hat-trick and the winning wicket
David Willey gets ready to celebrate