Will Hawkes: Northants on the rise but are they about to replace Yorkshire?

County Focus: It would require something not far short of divine intervention to stop Northants going up
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The Independent Online

When you look at the numbers, it should be no contest. Yorkshire have won 31 titles, Northamptonshire none. Yorkshire have provided any number of Test stalwarts down the years, including, in the current side, Tim Bresnan; Northamptonshire's contribution has been less notable, with Allan Lamb – whose roots are in Cape Province, not Corby – the greatest success. Graeme Swann, of course, began his career at Northampton before being lured away by the (relatively) bright lights of Nottingham.

Of course, the disparity in impact largely reflects a disparity in population – and that makes it all the more impressive that Northamptonshire look far more likely to be playing First Division cricket next season. Today they welcome Surrey to Northampton knowing that anything but a catastrophic defeat will see them virtually promoted. Even given that, it would require something not far short of divine intervention to prevent them going up.

Meanwhile, God's assumed provenance is in some doubt in the Broad Acres. After the promise of 2010, when a young Tykes team challenged for the title into the final match, this year has been a terrible disappointment – and the worst may be yet to come. They're rooted in the relegation zone, having played a game more than third-from-bottom Worcestershire. Today they travel to Warwickshire knowing only victory will be good enough against a side challenging for the title.

Perhaps most humiliatingly of all, an SOS was sent out to former overseas player Jacques Rudolph a few weeks back and he is now captaining the side in the absence of Andrew Gale. Except he isn't, because he's at a training camp back in South Africa: Joe Sayers will lead the side today. The decision to bring Rudolph back smacked of panic; at the start of the season, Yorkshire's coach Martyn Moxon assured The Independent that the club "had no plans to bring anyone in". It has been a chastening season for Moxon: after last week's defeat to Warwickshire, he accused his young side of "having no stomach for the fight".

Northamptonshire, by contrast, have plenty of fighting spirit and no qualms over imported talent, and why should they? In recent years they have produced and then lost England's two best spinners – Swann and Monty Panesar – so to expect them to rely on their own supply is a little hard. Their captain, the tough, enthusiastic Andrew Hall, is, of course, South African while his cohorts in what must be the most durable lower-middle order in the game – Niall O'Brien, Chaminda Vaas and James Middlebrook – come from Ireland, Sri Lanka and, ahem, Yorkshire.

Northamptonshire's blend of hard-headed old pros with more hard-headed old pros has proved a potent mix in the Second Division. Will it work in the top flight? They'll have their key men, which will help. Vaas looks likely to be around – although a contract is yet to be signed for next year, the club is optimistic – O'Brien has recently signed a new deal and Hall will remain in charge.

One worry could be the ball: Northants' success this season has had something to do with the Tiflex ball used in the Second Division, which swings more than the Duke used in the top flight. Vaas and his bowling colleagues could certainly find it harder to run through sides next year.

Nonetheless, they will undoubtedly approach the challenge with the right attitude as long as Hall remains in charge. With all his years in the game, he has much to teach in terms of how to approach the game – he could certainly help Yorkshire's young side. Plenty of England cricket fans will be hoping that a county which has invested in local talent survives this season, but it does not look good. Rudolph will return for the final game against Somerset but by then it may be too late to ensure Yorkshire are able to face upwardly mobile Northants in the Championship next season.

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