Rob Keogh feels he has come of age as a true all-rounder for Northamptonshire, relishing his role as a front-line off-spinner and top order batter.
Keogh recently played his 150th white ball game for the Steelbacks during the Metro Bank One Day Cup and marked the occasion with career best List A bowling figures of four for 49 against Somerset before registering his third List A century against Glamorgan.
The resurgence in Keogh’s bowling started with 34 red ball wickets in Northamptonshire’s first season back in the LV= Insurance County Championship Division One last year. Combined with 804 Championship runs and three centuries, it marked his best all-round season and led to him playing a key role with bat and ball again this summer.
Keogh took confidence from the last time Northamptonshire were in the topflight in 2014 when, despite injuries, he hit a century against Sussex and another against the touring Sri Lankans.
Reflecting on his career, he says: “I’ve never thought I was the best player, but I’ve always felt I’ve got the most out of myself, ground out a career, played with pride and tried to represent the badge as much as possible.
“Going into last year, I’d actually done well in Division One when we were up last time in 2014, so, I took confidence from that. I was also enjoying my cricket a lot, which helps and just managed to grind out a good season.
“I felt really confident with the ball. That’s given me the chance to kick on and get better with the ball now, whereas starting out in my career, I always felt like a batter that bowled a few overs before the new ball. Now I feel I could be a threat with the ball at any point in an innings in any format and I’d class myself as a genuine all-rounder.”
Keogh first started to believe he could be more than a part-time bowler around 2016 when he registered career best figures of nine for 52 as he and Graeme White shared all 20 Glamorgan wickets between them. He finished with incredible match figures of 13 for 125.
“I liked the feeling of, if I didn’t get any runs, I could try and have an impact in the game with the ball. So, from then on, I took my bowling more seriously. I was going away in winters and doing a lot of net bowling at different teams in either South Africa or Australia, just trying to learn and bowl at first-class batters all year round.”
A few lean years with the ball led to a drop in confidence, but he made a few subtle but key changes in the winter of 2021/22.
“It ended up working really well. Not being scared of going for runs and always trying to take wickets. I was really enjoying bowling and I still am. So, just that confidence and backing myself as a bowler, rather than going in feeling I’m just a part-timer bowling the donkey overs before the new ball.”
With the bat, Keogh has felt in good touch this year, but admits to frustration at not being able to convert more promising starts into big scores, despite a century and a 97 in the County Championship. After his ton against Glamorgan this week, he revealed the batting group had decided to take away the fear of failure and play with more freedom.
Keogh is happy to be a one-club man, signing a contract extension in May to extend his stay at Wantage Road until the end of 2025. The 31-year-old, who hit the winning runs in Northamptonshire’s 2016 T20 Blast triumph, has spent his entire career with the club and was a popular choice for Players’ Player of 2022.
“It’s special to be part of the same club I joined as a young boy coming up through the pathways and to have been lucky enough to be awarded a testimonial year for next year.
“It’s a family club. Everyone knows it’s not the biggest of clubs, but it’s a great community in Northampton. They love their sport. They’re very passionate and make all the players feel welcome and loved. Since the moment I joined, the supporters have been fantastic with me.
“Northampton is my home and, in this day and age, people staying at one club is very rare. I just hope I’ve given enough, have proved enough to the fans and showed enough loyalty to repay the club and the supporters for what they’ve given me over the last 14 years.”
His sporting journey could have been very different. Playing for the Bedfordshire age groups as well as Dunstable Town Cricket Club, he juggled cricket with a youth contract at Luton Town Football Club. Ultimately, he opted to pursue a career with bat and ball.
“Luton had said they needed me to decide between cricket and football, I couldn’t keep playing football and then disappearing early to play cricket or turning up late for playing cricket in the morning. They wanted me to put all my eggs in the football basket.
“I’m not naive enough to think I’d have been going out to Kenilworth Road now playing in the Premier League. But I knew my football was coming to an end. I wasn’t playing as well as I would have liked. It’s such a hard industry to break into. Cricket was going well for me at the time. I’d just committed fully to Northants in the academy and just thought it was the right decision. Luckily, it’s paid off so far!”
Looking forward, Keogh has expressed an interest in coaching and mentoring young players and has just applied to start working towards his Level Three coaching qualification.
“I’ve tried to give back as much as I can to the younger guys. I offer as much advice as I can. I’ve not played for England or any franchise cricket, but it’s nice knowing the younger guys coming through our academy and into our first team feel they can come and talk to me and feel I can help them.
“I’ve started to consider coaching could be a future after the game in some capacity. It’s something I never thought I would go into, but over the last two years, doing a bit of work with the young lads has given me that desire and hunger to give back.”