VIEW FROM THE BLUES: Plenty of work to do to prepare for life in top flight

NEEDING THE DIVISION ONE CHALLENGE - Alex Wakely
NEEDING THE DIVISION ONE CHALLENGE - Alex Wakely
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Well, Northants would have been preparing for the lucrative Champions League in any other year as English cricket’s Twenty20 winners.

But the ECB seem to enjoy going up against the Indian-led ICC, and so the Steelbacks will miss out on a considerable payout as the domestic season overlaps the lucrative event this week, with some $6 million up for grabs in India.

And it’s not like Northants don’t need that money, as it has been revealed that most of the £200,000 from winning the Twenty20 went to the players, with the club left with just £40,000.

The Champions League winners get a tidy $2.5m, and half of that for runners up.

Its $500,000 if you make the semi-finals, and $200,000 just for showing up. Ouch!

So, attention turns to the final embers of the not-so-glamorous LVC Championship in not-so-glamorous late September, as the Northants players enjoyed a week off to prepare for this week’s crucial game with Kent.

The same Kent side that saved one of their worst performances of the year to do all they could to help Essex win last week.

But Darren Stevens (out of contract) battled it out in the gloom at Canterbury like a true pro, and Northants went into the final two games with that very healthy 21-point lead.

To be fair, Kent have been rubbish all year and were second bottom going into the game, which is where Northants could well have been this season without the efforts of Trent Copeland.

But failing to get the 127 follow-on at Canterbury was embarrassing, and a hint that Essex are doing everything they can to catch us.

Saying that, Ricardo reminded me that we crumbled to 90 all out against the same county of Kent the day before the Twenty20 final in that 2009 season, which may well have been the lost points for an easy draw that cost us promotion that controversial year.

If players are distracted, then they don’t perform, simple as that.

If we do get promoted, who do we bring in to try and get some sort of early traction on the tough mountain climb to come?

And how do we pay for it? It looks as though the 2013 budget will be no different to the 2014 one by the looks of it.

I think we will need to win at least two matches on the early April/May pitches with our seam attack to stand a chance.

Copeland’s bowling maidens to get wickets approach is what we need, and it would be great to see another Aussie come in, as David Smith has hinted at.

It looks like Steve Magoffin may not renew at struggling Sussex, and so he is a possible target.

We know the top teams have strong support seam that we don’t have, and we also know we are well short in the spin department.

If we don’t get a top quality spinner we have no chance.

Draws keep teams up in LV= One, and the pitches reflect that as matches go the distance with spinners required to bowl long spells to keep the seam attack fresh.

James Middlebrook and Matt Spriegel may not be up to the task.

I don’t think it will be Monty Panesar, as all manner of strange stories are coming out of Sussex about his behavior, cricinfo.com reporting that he was asking kids for money on the boundary that wanted his autograph.

‘Mum. Monty wants 50p to sign the scoresheet’. ‘What!?’

But With 134 of the 365 pros in English cricket out of contract at the start of August, there is choice out there as clubs continue economising to pay for their stadium improvements or increasing costs as the two-divisional wage inflation bites hard.

Northants are reportedly one of the worst payers on the circuit, and they will need more than one season of first division cricket to tempt the better guys to that supposedly grim payroll.

Andrew Hall, the Swiss Army knife of the team, has another year but no real pace, and so at least two experienced or promising seam bowlers will have to come in.

Maurice Chambers from Essex has been linked to Notts and Northants, and I know Matt Coles was talking with Derbyshire, but those talks may have gone flat now that the Midlanders are on the slide.

Experienced RSA all-rounder Greg Smith at Essex is available, but may be a Kolpak registration.

I hope we give Luke Evans one more year, but I can’t see it.

I also noticed Sussex have 40 per cent of their squad yet to sign for next season, and soon-to-be-relegated Surrey have 10 more not contracted for 2014.

But considering Boyd Rankin (an Irish national) and Chris Jordan (a West Indies national) only need play a handful of games for Surrey and Sussex to get in the England side, it will be hard to see any Surrey guys with international ambitions jumping ship anyday soon.

The big counties still offer those walk-in places for England as part of contract sweeteners by the looks, however ambiguous their nationality.

Batting wise we are in good shape, and if David Sales does make 1,000 runs and so finishes Northants’ top run scorer that should trigger a contract offer.

I have a really good feeling that Sales, Alex Wakely and Rob Newton will prosper in the top division as it’s the challenge they need.

At the moment they are like performance race cars on a mini go-kart track.

But they will be facing some seriously top-class pace bowling for a bit longer next season as the first Test doesn’t start until mid-June.

That means the England lads will be tuning up for a good six weeks in county cricket, shattering stumps and piling up runs.

Rob Keogh, James Kettleborough and Christian Davis are young players to stick with, and Stephen Peters and Kyle Coetzer a potentially good opening partnership at the next grade up.

Rob Murphy and Ben Duckett have the stumps covered.

But whatever happens, the team spirit is strong and let’s hope the players are on to their mates at other counties to consider a Northants move as another Finals Day beckons in 2014.