Steelbacks skipper Wakely wants to make Willey homecoming a miserable one

BEST OF ENEMIES - pals Alex Wakely (left) and David Willey will be on opposite teams at the County Ground on Friday night
BEST OF ENEMIES - pals Alex Wakely (left) and David Willey will be on opposite teams at the County Ground on Friday night
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David Willey’s departure from Northants hasn’t proved too costly in white-ball cricket so far this season.

The Steelbacks have still managed to make the quarter-finals of the NatWest T20 Blast and will be bidding to secure a home tie on Friday night (start 6.30pm).

If they beat Willey’s Yorkshire Vikings then Northants can look forward to a last-eight tie at the County Ground next month.

And that would be yet another fine achievement for a county that does not enjoy anywhere near the riches of the likes of Yorkshire.

But while the Steelbacks have coped admirably after losing one of their biggest stars last summer, Willey has still managed to inflict pain on his former team in a different way.

He came back to haunt them in a Royal London One-Day Cup tie at Scarborough last month, smashing the winning runs as he finished unbeaten on 26.

And last week at Headingley, Willey, who is Northampton born and bred, was at it again, rifling a fantastic 74 from just 46 balls as his new county claimed a 75-run T20 Blast win against the Steelbacks at Headingley.

Northants had their chances to get rid of him early on in that encounter, but their failure to stop him eventually cost them dear.

And captain Alex Wakely, who formed a close friendship with Willey during their lengthy stay together at the County Ground, is now tasked with formulating a plan to stop his former team-mate enjoying a happy first return to his former stomping ground this week.

“Dave loves the big games and that’s one of his biggest assets,” Wakely said.

“He always does well in the big matches, the television matches, so we’ll be analysing him and we’ll be looking at our plans to him.

“I think it’s going to be a great game of cricket and let’s hope the weather stays fair.

“It will be a great atmosphere, two top one-day teams playing against each other and if I was a spectator I’d definitely want to be down there.”

The Steelbacks have enjoyed some impressive wins during this season’s competition, but they found it tough at Yorkshire.

The home side made 215 for six before Northants were left on 140 for nine, with Richard Levi unable to bat due to a shoulder injury that has ruled him out of Friday’s match.

And ahead of this week’s revenge mission, Wakely said: “We’ve got to be better all round because we were under-par in all of our disciplines: batting, bowling and fielding.

“A bit of luck went against us, we could have got a few early wickets and we didn’t, and Richard Levi getting injured wasn’t great.

“For me it’s about taking our chances because we know they’ve got a very good team and we’ve got to take every opportunity.

“We play cricket for these kinds of big games and big moments.

“Twenty20 cricket is about someone playing that match-winning innings or taking that match-winning catch.

“Someone in our team has got to think ‘right this is the game, I want to get in the headlines, I want to do it in front of the cameras’.

“I think Sky got a bit of a wake-up call after not putting us on television at all and the way we played in that game against Birmingham Bears made them think they made a mistake.

“It’s all about us making sure we can turn up on the day.”

And Wakely is desperate for his team to do that so they can enjoy home comforts in the bid to reach finals day for the third time in four seasons.

The skipper has relished the support his team have enjoyed at the County Ground, which was packed for the victory against Birmingham Bears last week.

“I reckon in sport a lot of players just praise their home support because they have to, but when I say it this year, I’ve really felt the home support has been incredible,” Wakely said.

“The atmosphere is better than it ever has been before.

“People used to come and not really know much about Northampton. It wasn’t many people who followed Northampton religiously.

“But because we’re getting more high profile and playing better cricket, people are really getting onboard with the underdog story and buying into it.

“The atmosphere is just growing and growing every time we play.”