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Under-17s reach ECB Championship Final for the first time in 20 years

Northamptonshire’s Under-17s have been celebrating after their victory over Yorkshire in the semi-finals of the ECB Championship last week.

It means the County boys will face Sussex at Arundel Castle in the national final on August 29, 30 and 31 – two decades almost to the day since the County claimed the title for the first time.

“We see the Under-17s as a flagship age-group,” explains development coach Kevin Innes, who runs the squad alongside Andy O’Connor.

“There are some good cricketers there, and if they take their chances – who knows?  They might earn a contract with the club and kick on.

“To play at Arundel will be a real privilege and it should be a good contest.  As always, it’s whoever plays best over the three days.”

The semi-final at Weetwood featured outstanding individual performances from two Northamptonshire Academy players, Conner Haddow and Andrew Bramley.

Haddow, a left-arm spinner at High Wycombe CC, had a lot to do with the team making the last four – capturing 20 wickets in the two group victories over Nottinghamshire (6-38 and 6-22) and Wales (4-39 and 4-56).

And against the Tykes he claimed 4-90 from 28 overs to help dismiss the hosts for 280.  Then Bramley’s knock of 175 – backed up by Horton House’s Ewan Cox (88) and Ben Coddington of Rushton (78) – saw Northamptonshire claim a 200-run lead, and although Yorkshire avoided an ‘outright’ defeat (four more wickets for Haddow from a marathon 46-over stint!) Ben Claydon’s side were into the final.

“Conner is very, very talented and we have high hopes for him,” says Innes.

“Andrew has been threatening for a while.  He’d made 20s and 30s without building on that.  This was just the perfect innings at the perfect time – and once he gets going he’s hard to stop!”

“The three-day format we play now is definitely better than two-day cricket.  The best teams win because you have to aim to bowl a side out twice, rather than it just being all about the first innings.

“We also reached the semi-finals of the one-day competition (losing to Lancashire at Ormskirk last month) and that shows we have cricketers able to play in different situations.

“It’s not just about batsmen who can occupy the crease for a long time.  We have lads who can get on with it as well, and that’s a good combination.”

The playing regulations were very different back in 1997 when Northamptonshire’s youngsters – managed by Dr Tony Pont with former Essex and England paceman Neil Foster as coach – claimed the silverware.

The one-day group matches were followed by two-day games from the quarter-finals onwards, and after dispatching Devon in the last eight (thanks largely to a Rob White century and 93 not out from Mark Powell) it was back to Lynn Wilson’s beautiful ground at Holcot for the semi against Durham.

Richard Logan and Michael Dobson skittled the visitors for 130, but at 43-5 Northamptonshire were in deep trouble – and former County captain Geoff Cook, managing the Durham side, looked set to put one over on his old club.

But he reckoned without Logan and skipper Mark Chatfield, who knocked off the rest of the runs.

And so to Worcester for the final against Hampshire, played against the somewhat surreal backdrop of the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales just the day before.

On a damp pitch, Northamptonshire collapsed again to 92-8.  This time Chatfield and Dobson rode to the rescue and lifted the total to a defendable 162. 

Hampshire had slumped to 45-6 by the close of the first day, and next morning were routed for 66. 

“Tony Pont brought a lot to that team,” recalls Chatfield, who after gaining a First in Mathematics at Oxford University now lives and works in Australia.

“We were at the ground an hour-and-a-half beforehand, partly to warm up but also to reflect on the previous match and focus on our game-plan for the next one.

“Richard (Logan) played splendidly for us and it was great to see him opening the bowling for England in the Under-19s World Cup a few months later.

“After the game there was a glass of champagne and an interview with Sky Sports – I think I got about 30 seconds of airtime!

“Congratulations to the current Under-17s.  Do your best in the test that is the final.”

In the aftermath of Northamptonshire’s Blast exit, it would be a timely morale-boost to see Claydon lift the trophy.  Better still if a few members of the team emulate White, Logan and Powell from the Class of ’97 by making the professional grade.

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