‘Actions speak louder than words. We must take responsibility’

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough.

Staffordshire captain James Kettleborough eats, sleeps and breathes cricket.

Whether it’s focusing on his own performance or mulling over team matters, the game is never far from Kettleborough’s thoughts.

But at the forefront of his mind ahead of the new National Counties Cricket Association season would have been why his Staffs players fell flat in last year’s Knockout Trophy campaign.

Staffs had opened the 2023 schedule by winning the Twenty20 Cup for the first time and ended it by finishing as runners-up in Championship Division One East.

It was the block of fixtures in the middle, though, which occupied Kettleborough’s mind as Staffordshire failed to qualify from their Knockout Trophy group.

They beat Wales, but defeats by Wiltshire and Buckinghamshire, plus an abandoned trip to Dorset, sealed Staffs’ fate.

‘Problem solving’

Kettleborough hopes he and head coach Andy Carr have found the solutions to last year’s 50-over issues.

The county skipper has highlighted a lack of runs as one of the main reasons – and wants to see that situation remedied when Staffordshire head to Mildenhall to play Suffolk on Sunday (11am).

“It’s the one format, when we reflected over the winter, that we didn’t perform as we wanted in,” said Kettleborough.

“We’ve had conversations in pre-season about that. Hopefully this year we will be able to put things right, starting on Sunday.

“In all of the fixtures we batted first. I don’t think it needed much reflection – we didn’t get enough runs on the board.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough.
Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough takes his side to Suffolk this weekend. Picture: Pete Stonier

“The Wales game was the exception. We didn’t get enough runs, but the bowlers came to the fore and pulled us out of it.

“In the Wiltshire game and the one against Bucks, which was rain-affected, we didn’t put a big enough score on the board to be able to build pressure with the ball.

“Those two performances we were quite poor and it was the only format where someone didn’t score a hundred, which tells a story.”

‘Time to act’

Kettleborough says it’s all well and good speaking about how the players want to approach matters in this particular format. But he says it’s about actions when they take to the field in East Anglia, aiming to kick off their 50-over programme with a win.

“It’s about the guys taking responsibility and going on to get a big score,” added Kettleborough.

“The lads would get 30s and 40s and then we played poor shots to get out. It was a knock on from the T20s and we didn’t transition properly to the new format.

Staffordshire back in NCCA Twenty20 Cup after rivals’ error

“We got away with it at Wales, but against Wiltshire we were 80-4 or five and then it needs a lot of work to get to a decent score.

“We have to respect the different formats and play them all properly.

“I think the players have taken the lessons on board. It’s one thing talking about it, its another to go out and execute it.

“Against Bucks we had two or three of us getting 50 or 60, but not the 80s and 90s that you need.”

‘Promising signs’

However, Kettleborough believes there were signs about his side’s capabilities in this format.

Staffordshire managed to secure a Duckworth/Lewis victory over Leicestershire in their Showcase Game at Knypersley last summer.

And he wants his players to take that confidence into this year’s Knockout Trophy exploits.

“We showed signs against Leicestershire in the Showcase Game. People got in and got scores,” explained Kettleborough.

“It was a bit frustrating because we showed in that game what we are capable of, so it was disappointing not to do it in the 50-over format.

“However, having seen it against Leicester, it gives us the belief that we can produce.”

‘Unexpected bonus’

Staffordshire make the long trip to East Anglia having received an unexpected boost.

They were handed an NCCA Twenty20 Cup lifeline after being reinstated into the competition.

Staffs, who are the defending champions, were seemingly knocked out of the initial group stage following Monday’s final round of matches.

Their final double header against Cumbria at Carlisle was called off because of a waterlogged ground.

However, it has subsequently emerged that Northumberland – who Staffordshire played in Group One – fell foul of NCCA rules in their fixture against Cheshire.

Northumberland fielded former pros Jacques Du Toit and Stuart Poynter in the matches at Oxton. Both have played more than 40 games across first-class and List A fixtures.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough.
Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough chats with team-mate Liam Hurt in the T20 games against Northumberland. Picture: Pete Stonier

Counties are only permitted to field one player whose combined tally of first-class and List A appearances exceeds the 40-mark.

Northumberland had finished in second place in the group to advance to the Super 12s stage. Staffs missed out as one of the best third-placed finishers.

The competition has been tweaked this summer with the top two from each of the five groups qualifying.

The best two third-placed sides also progressed which, after Monday’s results, were Cambridgeshire and Herefordshire.

But Northumberland’s removal from the T20 Cup sees Staffordshire back in contention to defend the crown they won last year.

Staffs defeated Berkshire and Cornwall on finals day to lift the silverware for the first time in their history.

They now head to Norwich’s Manor Park to play Norfolk and Hertfordshire in the Super 12s on May 19, with the winners advancing to finals day.

‘Pivotal time’

“On Monday we felt a bit deflated with the news that we were out. That gave us the extra determination to put things right this weekend,” said Kettleborough.

“To have the news on Tuesday that we were back in gives us a boost.

“These next couple of weeks have the potential to shape our season, or at least have a big impact on things.

“It’s exciting to have that chance in both the 50-over format and the T20s.

Staffordshire take 12-man squad to Suffolk for NCCA Knockout Trophy clash

“We are the defending T20 champions so we’re relishing the prospect of playing in the Super 12s.”

Staffordshire will take a 12-man squad to East Anglia for their opening NCCA Knockout Trophy match this weekend.

Norfolk, Herefordshire and Shropshire complete the group in this particular section of the white-ball format.

Staffordshire include Leek’s Zen Malik in their squad after a productive week for the 26-year-old.

Malik has scored hundreds in both innings for Glamorgan in their Second XI Championship game against Warwickshire 2s at Portland Road.

Reeve Evitts is also named after making his debut for Staffs in the T20 matches against Northumberland.

Main image: Staffordshire captain James Kettleborough is striving for improvement in the 50-over format. Picture: Pete Stonier