PROMOTION SUCCESS FOR THE STEELETTOS
One particular Gerry Rafferty song might usefully be adopted as the theme tune for any aspirational sports team.
Because if you get it wrong it’s always a jolly good wheeze to get it right next time.
Northamptonshire’s women made the long trek up to Durham last September and endured one of their less successful days at the office – bundled out for a paltry 43 with only wides making it into double figures.
A year later, skipper Trish Hankins and her side were back in the north-east. And on this occasion there was plenty at stake.
To be precise, a place in Division Two of next season’s ECB County Championship.
So would history repeat itself at Green Lane as the Steelettos faced Durham in a winner-takes-all play-off contest? The answer, happily, was an emphatic no.
This time the hosts were put through the wringer, dismissed for just 90, and Northamptonshire knocked off the runs for a five-wicket win.
To that spot of sweet revenge add promotion in the Twenty20 competition (seven victories from eight starts) and you have a summer of conspicuous success for the County.
“Before the season started we did say let’s try and push to go up in both,” explains Hankins, who was turning out for Northamptonshire as a 14-year-old under Kerry York’s captaincy back in 2003.
“We trained really hard last winter and introduced some new stuff like a Strength and Conditioning coach (Liam Price) and also a sports psychologist for a couple of sessions.
“Lydia Greenway (the former England international) got involved too – so we really invested in our winter programme, and the improvement was there to see.
“With Division Three being put into regions this year we reckoned we could beat any of our opponents. But you have to make sure you turn up on the day and never be complacent.”
And they weren’t. Northamptonshire won three of their four pool matches – the other abandoned – to earn another crack at Durham, who had topped one of the other groups.
In any knockout situation it’s handy to land your punch first, and Farida Bibi duly obliged by bagging two wickets with successive balls in the first over…without a run on the board.
“Obviously they beat us quite convincingly last year, so it was payback time,” admits the captain.
“We really dominated from the start – and 0-2, well you couldn’t ask for anything better! From then on the girls really believed we could do it.”
Bibi, Hankins and young Bethan Solomon (a member of the Under-15s squad) shared seven of the wickets before Alicia Presland from Huntingdon all-but-settled the issue with a brisk 49 from 56 deliveries.
After watching a few overs of the Steelettos’ opening Championship fixture against Suffolk on a decidedly unspringlike May day at Finedon, it was clear they would outstrip many other teams in the fielding department.
Needless to say, that didn’t happen by accident.
“A couple of years ago we were a good side in the field, but then we perhaps didn’t work as hard on it.
“Now with the Strength and Conditioning coach getting our fitness up, fielding is probably the area that’s improved the most.
“And of course a good bit of fielding always lifts a team and makes everyone want to achieve that same standard.”
It’s probably fair to say that, not too long ago, the Northamptonshire women’s set-up didn’t have many points of contact with the rest of the game in the county.
It was a self-contained entity that largely did its own thing.
But in recent years a proper ‘pathway’ has been created, taking talented girls from age-group squads into the senior ranks.
And as a member of Northants Recreational Cricket’s development team, it’s both a passion and ‘the day job’ for Hankins.
“We started our Under-11s girls team a couple of years ago – and that’s strengthened the Under-13s, who made the national finals this season.
“Development hubs have also been launched around the area, meaning those girls who might not quite make the county squads still have something to aim for.
“And they’ve brought a few players to our notice who we might not have picked up on otherwise.
“So it’s a real pathway now – and hopefully what we’ve achieved in the seniors this season will make the younger girls want to become a part of it.”
The profile of the women’s game in this country has received a huge boost through England’s World Cup victory over India at Lord’s – an exciting tussle that reportedly attracted more Sunday afternoon TV viewers on Sky than the average Premier League footie fixture.
“It’s been massive,” says Trish. “We’ve run some women’s softball tournaments this year to offer a further option and the buzz has been terrific.
“People have seen how successful England are. The players are becoming role models now, and it’s just brilliant that cricket is being thought of as a game for women.”
Given that those behind winning sports teams are like painters on the Forth Bridge – their task never ends – it will surprise no-one to discover that plans for 2018 are already being laid.
And here it’s appropriate to recognise the major contribution of coach and manager Rob Mahony, a fine cricketer in his own right who (if memory serves) dismissed a certain Michael Atherton at the Cambridge Under-19s festival back in 1985 before stacking up the runs and wickets for Horton House and Kettering.
As for the captain – well, she admits a spot of R-and-R is high on the agenda at the tail-end of a summer that’s also seen her achieve promotion with Burton Latimer into the Women’s Midlands League Premier Division.
It will mean a few steady away trips next year to the likes of Loughborough, Lutterworth, Walmley and Clifton Village.
“I’m feeling really old! Farida (Bibi) is the only regular player in the county side older than me, and I must admit the body is feeling a bit tired.
“But it’s been a pretty good season all-round, really!”
Anyone feel like arguing with that? Not me.
Alex Wakely (25)
Graeme White (17)
Steven Crook (16)
Josh Cobb (13)
Ben Sanderson (12)
Richard Gleeson (11)
Richard Levi (10)
Rob Keogh (9)
Saif Zaib (7)
Rory Kleinveldt (7)
Max Holden (7)
Rob Newton (6)
David Murphy (6)
Tom Sole (6)
Adam Rossington (6)
Mohammad Azharullah (6)
Monty Panesar (4)
David Ripley (4)
Seekuge Prasanna (3)
Phil Rowe (3)
Chris Tombs (2)
Nathan Buck (2)
Gavin Warren (2)
Will Rogers (1)
Kevin Innes (1)
Mike Ferrandino (1)
County Council (1)
cllr Robin Brown (1)
Ray Payne (1)
NCCC holdings (1)
Chris Lorkin (1)
Second XI / Academy Physiotherapist (1)
Barry Goudriaan (1)
England Lions (1)
north v south (1)
David Sales (1)
Luke Procter (1)
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