Northamptonshire’s U17 cricketers have capped a brilliant run to book themselves a place in the final of the National  50 Over Competition. The youngsters put in some exceptional displays to top a difficult group before defeating Lancashire in the semi-final on Sunday. A familiar opponent, Lancashire knocked Northamptonshire out of the competition at the same stage in 2017.

“We’re really excited, the boys have been working for this all year. We got through some tough and close games along the way, but we deserve to be here and we’re really looking forward to it.” Academy Director Kevin Innes said.

“The boys have been great, I’ve seen the players really come on a lot this year and it’s great to see that development, it gives us a lot of confidence to put in a good performance in the final.” he said.

Having lost their first match of the group stage to Cricket Wales, Northants were right up against it with only the first-placed sides in each of the groups qualifying for the last four. However, they recorded three crushing victories to power them into the finals.

Their second match of the tournament saw Staffordshire put to the sword in what was a do or die encounter, with two losses almost definitely ruling out their chances of progression. Bowling out the opposition for just 141, Jonny Clarke and Adam Davies ran through them, picking up excellent figures of 4-12 and 3-18 respectively. Danyaal Malik who had made 81 in a losing cause in the first match led from the front again with 53 not out at the top of the order, seeing the side home putting on 57 for the first wicket and then reaching the target with James Cronie who contributed a brisk 49 not out.

The U17s carried on that momentum in turning over Nottinghamshire at Old Northamptonians CC with little trouble, bowling them out for just 123 having won the toss and elected to field for the second match on the trot. There were some new names in the wicket too, all-rounder Cronie popped up with 3-25 towards the end of the innings with the openers having set the tone and reduced the visitors to 7-3 in the early stages. Cronie completed an outstanding performance with his second consecutive 49 not out as they knocked off 127 with 25.5 overs to spare for the loss of just two wickets, new to the top of the order Harry Gouldstone also chipping in with a half-century.

That win set up a last match shootout, effectively a quarter-final against Warwickshire who had won all three of their matches in the group stage. The winning method had to be changed with Warwickshire winning the toss and putting Northants in to bat for the first time since their opening game defeat. They reacted well though with Cronie promoted to open, he contributed to a first wicket stand of 74 before he had to depart for 48, agonisingly close to his half-century for the third successive match. Gouldstone came in at 3 and backed up his 50 against Notts with a run a ball 47 in a key partnership of 106 from 111 balls with captain Amrit Basra to get Northants up to 183-3 with 7.1 overs remaining. Basra kicked on and accompanied by a couple of enterprising cameos from Michael Wells and Olly Jeffries, they managed to add 78 more to the total and post an intimidating 261 from their 50 overs, Basra top scoring with 73.

In reply Warwickshire struggled to build partnerships with Irfan Marofkhail dismissing both opening batsman inside the first 10 overs before Henry Warren tore through the middle order reducing the visitors to 85-5. Warwickshire battled hard with a last wicket stand of 48 but it was never going to be enough as they were bowled out for 169 in the last over with Warren recording his best figures in the tournament of 4-18.

Having lost to the same opposition in the semi-final two years ago, Northamptonshire were determined not to make the same stumble. There’d be no such concerns though as they comfortably defeated Lancashire by 65 runs. Having won the toss and electing to bat Gouldstone and Wells came out of the blocks hard, taking the total past 50 in the 7th over. Driven by a run a ball 72 from James Sales, the positive batting continued with Northamptonshire posting 247. In reply Lancashire started well but regular wickets meant they were always behind the game. Alex Rennie and Danyaal Malik the standout bowlers, Rennie finishing with 3/23 in 8.1 overs.

Now through to the national final, Academy Director Kevin Innes believe the team’s work on more than just cricket skills is one of the reasons for their success.

“All of our players have obviously got very good skill but we’ve worked hard on game awareness and game situations to beat oppositions with that rather than skill alone because I don’t think skill is the only factor.” he said.

The U17s now face Hampshire in the final on Sunday at Kibworth CC. A good omen for the side, the only time Northamptonshire have won the national title outright was in 1997, against Hampshire.