As part of their 10 to watch for the 2014 county season, All Out Cricket picked out Northants middle-order man Rob Newton – a young batsman of huge talent who has been held back by injuries so far in his career. James Browne spoke to Newton about making the step up to Division One of the LV= County Championship and staying true to his aggressive instincts.
You could be forgiven for not having heard of Rob Newton. On June 2, 2013, the 23-year old was rattling along on 88 in a one-dayer against Kent when his ankle ligaments gave way, sidelining him for the rest the season. This was just the latest setback in a young career that has already been beset by unlucky injuries (he also missed a good chunk of the 2012 season with a broken arm and he fractured his finger in the lead up to this campaign since speaking to AOC) and Newton admits that being cut down in his prime has been a sickener.
“I was just really getting going and originally we were thinking I’d be out for maybe just six or eight weeks but then I had to have an operation and was out for quite a few months. The doctors and surgeons just couldn’t believe I’d managed to do it playing cricket. It was a pretty bleak one.”
A middle-order batsman with a combative attitude and penchant for the unpredictable, what he can do is score runs. Just a cursory glance at his record shows that, when he’s in serviceable condition, he’s been posting some noticeably healthy scores in the County Championship. And in good, watchable style too. He scored 751 runs with three Championship tons in 2012, despite his time out injured, and averaged 41 at the beginning of last season before his ankle caved.
His talent first came to the fore a couple of years ago, in a crucial clash with league leaders Derbyshire. With Northamptonshire struggling, Newton marched out at No.5 and twice put the frontrunners to the sword, biffing a blistering hundred in each innings to secure an improbable draw. He’s only the 11th player in the club’s history to achieve the feat, something which Newton says impressed even Northants old-stager David Sales.
“It was quite a big achievement, but I didn’t really realise at the time. I was there with David Sales who I assumed had done it four or five times being the legend that he is. But he immediately came down and said, ‘Congratulations, not many people have done that’.”
Some knowing nudges around the County Ground this pre-season believe that Newton, back and firing, might be ready to make a bit of noise this year. Club captain Stephen Peters has had a ringside seat for the young batsman’s return from injury and is optimistic that with the right attitude, there’s a very promising 2014 ahead.
“He’s a very gifted little player and full of confidence. Little, stocky, powerful; he’s very talented. He’s got every shot in the book – which sometimes costs him big scores, so I know that’s an area he’s looking to improve on. I think the biggest thing about Rob is, he will get out in some strange ways but he’s a matchwinner. He’s very capable of taking an attack to task, scoring quickly, or knocking off a run chase.”
Newton attributes his success to a natural style but, as Peters says, he’s also been striving to build a more mature foundation to his game and hopefully add some more gritty knocks to the scrapbook. “I’d say I was a pretty attacking batter, I guess quite instinctive and not too technique-driven. I’m a pretty natural player and I don’t think too much about it all. Over the last two years, however, I’ve tightened up my defensive technique – the more good balls I can keep out, the more not-so-good balls I get to face. So that’s been a real key this winter in particular; just playing a bit straighter, trying to make sure I’m in for as long as possible.”
With Northamptonshire now in Division One, a more considered approach will be crucial to counter this step up in quality. But despite their rookie status, Newton is adamant that Northants should be perceived as rather more than plucky underdogs. “We are looking at it as obviously a great opportunity, and we’re not really putting a ceiling on what we can achieve because we think we’ve got a really good squad. I don’t think we’re going to come out and say, ‘You know if we survive by a point we think that will be a really good year’. We think we can beat anyone if we’re playing well.”
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