Wantage Road has been home from home for as long as Northamptonshire all-rounder James Sales can remember.
Son of former Steelbacks skipper David Sales, some of his earliest memories are of playing with his father on the outfield and going on the road when Northamptonshire played away.
Now, aged 19, he is making memories of his own with a key role in Northamptonshire’s recent Royal London Cup victory against Essex after a whirlwind first year in the senior team.
“I was up at Wantage Road quite a bit when I was young, from the moment I was born pretty much! My Mum would take me up to watch my Dad at Northants and I remember playing on the outfield at lunch and tea intervals. My Dad used to come over, and underarm a few balls at me.
“I remember travelling around the county circuit to watch him. Because he was captain at the time, he used to get his own room. So, me and my family would go and watch him there. I remember hanging out with a few of the older players, going out to dinner with them.”
With cricket all around him, it was inevitable Sales was going to get involved in the game, first in youth cricket at Overstone Park Cricket Club, where he worked on his bowling with another Northamptonshire great, the late David Capel. From there he entered Northamptonshire’s youth system and academy, realising a childhood dream to make it as a professional cricketer.
And it was another of his father’s former teammates, David Ripley, who gave him his first senior games in last year’s Royal London Cup where he made useful runs before a surprise LV= Insurance Championship debut.
“It was all a bit of a whirlwind year really,” he says. “I started off basically being told by the Academy, you’ll be lucky if you play a couple of Seconds fixtures. There were a couple of those games, then next thing I knew I was selected for the Royal London Cup. Then, a couple weeks after that, I was making my Championship debut. So, it came quite quickly.”
Sales showed his appetite for pressure situations on that four-day debut. Chasing what would be Northamptonshire’s highest successful run chase against Surrey in first-class cricket, the hosts had just lost four quick wickets when Sales sealed victory by smashing a boundary.
“There were a few nerves flying around,” he admits. “I copped a little bit of stick while I was out there which always urges me on. I had one role in mind really, and luckily I was able to do it. It was just good to get the team over the line and contribute, coming in quite new and young.”
After a maiden first-class half-century against Durham, Sales was selected for the England Under 19 winter tour of Sri Lanka before featuring in the U19 World Cup in the West Indies.
“It was a nice winter being able to explore different parts of the world with a good group of lads and gain experience in different climates.
“Spin was quite tricky in Sri Lanka. It was finding a method which worked for me. Then, in the West Indies, it was nice being able to represent my country at a World Cup and knowing that friends and family at home were able to watch and support me on TV.”
In the Under 19 World Cup final against India, England slumped to 91 for seven before Sales combined in a partnership of 93 with Somerset’s James Rew, who top scored with 95. He was determined to support his partner to allow England to post a competitive total.
And although Sales took two wickets when India batted, England went on to lose the final by four wickets, but it afforded him hugely valuable experience in a big game.
He played in another Championship thriller at Cheltenham last month, making his highest score of 71 in the first innings and scoring vital runs in the chase in gathering gloom.
His unbeaten 34 as the Steelbacks hunted down a formidable target of 344 to beat Essex in the Royal London Cup is the latest in a string of tense games he has played in over the last year, showing his aptitude for soaking up pressure.
His father also attracted headlines as a teenager, becoming the youngest player to score a double hundred in the Championship aged just 18. While the younger Sales values his father’s support, he admits to some friendly rivalry.
“He doesn’t really tell me too much. He just makes little comments about my technique and stuff when I’m not exactly timing the ball as well as I probably could. He just says he would have hit it better than I would have done probably and made it easier.
“At the minute, I’m nowhere near the standard he was, from looking at his career records. So, I’ve still got quite a way to go to be able to make a few comments back!”