Anis Raza loving life with his Staffordshire spin twin

Staffordshire County Cricket Club spinner Anis Raza.

There’s a ‘bromance’ developing in the Staffordshire dressing room, according to insiders – and that can only be good news for the county.

Spinners Anis Raza and Tom Brett are the two men in question with the early signs suggesting their ‘relationship’ could be one for the long haul.

The pair shared 13 of the 20 Suffolk wickets to fall as Staffordshire opened up their National Counties Cricket Association Championship season with a 51-run win at Bury St Edmunds in Division One East.

They might both be slow left-armers, but there are differences in how they go about their work.

There are subtle variations in their deliveries, while Brett’s roar at the taking of a wicket is in contrast to Raza’s more quiet, unassuming air of satisfaction.

But one area where Raza and Brett have common ground is their desire to spin Staffordshire to success in three-day format.

Brett, aged 33, is well versed in life on the NCCA circuit, having accrued more than 200 wickets for Bedfordshire before making the switch to Staffordshire.

‘It’s good to talk’

He’s a source of knowledge for Ashcombe Park tweaker Raza, whose appearance at Suffolk was his first for Staffordshire for five years.

“I ask Bretty lots of questions,” said Raza ahead of this weekend’s second three-day assignment against Buckinghamshire at West Bromwich Dartmouth.

“I said to him that as long as I’m in the team I will be badgering him. But he’s happy to give me information because he knows exactly what to do.

“The lads say that we’ve got a ‘bromance’ forming because we can’t stop complimenting each other!

“I’ll ask Bretty what kind of ball he’s bowling and when it’s right to attack or just to sit in.

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“He told me that in the first innings he tries not to over-complicate things, just bowl your best ball consistently and you’ll pick up wickets.

“I got to the stage at Suffolk where I was even copying some of his field placings, but he has that experience to tap in to.”

Raza’s return to Staffordshire duty didn’t come as too much of a surprise given his performances in the North Staffs and South Cheshire League, plus a rich haul of wickets for the county’s development side.

‘Bowling improvement’

Stepping out at Bury St Edmunds was the first time he’d represented Staffs in the long format since 2018 when he was a regular in the Championship side.

Raza, who is studying sports coaching at Leeds Beckett University, believes he’s in a better place to show off his talent this time around.

“It has been crazy, but I think time has been the key. Now is a better time than any other year for me to return,” he explained.

“Hindsight is massive and I’m a different bowler now, but that’s only natural with time.

“When I look back and reflect, I probably wasn’t as up for it back then as I am now at 24.

“We’ve got youngsters in the team at 18 or 19 and I remember being in their boots. We’ve got some serious young talent and they are up for it. They just seem to be so fearless.

‘Hard work’

“It’s been a journey for me. Since my last stint playing for Staffordshire I went to Pakistan for six months and worked on my game.

“Then I played MCCU games for Leeds/Bradford and that improved my fitness. I think that I’ve matured as a cricketer now.

“In the past I played my cricket too fast. I was always wanting to score runs and take wickets. But in three-day matches you sometimes have to be patient.

“The format is good for spinners, especially bowling in tandem with Bretty. You get into a rhythm and don’t want to stop trying to take wickets for the team.

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“When I was younger on the first day I would have panicked if I wasn’t getting wickets. But the first innings of a Championship match can be about keeping things tight.

“That’s what me and Bretty tried to do because the second innings is then made for spinners.

“In the moment you just want to bowl your overs. Thankfully Bretty came up with a five-for in the second innings at Suffolk to win us the game.”

‘Telling contribution’

Raza’s contribution to Staffordshire’s victory shouldn’t be overlooked.

He picked up three wickets in each innings to play a significant part in a first win in Suffolk for 19 years.

However, Raza admits that he wasn’t sure that he would ever get the opportunity to represent the county again after his previous spell ended at the conclusion of the 2018 season.

“I was really happy with how the Suffolk game went for me. And I couldn’t have expected a better welcome from the lads. It was a nice surprise,” he added.

“I was pleased to be back and help the team to get a result, even though it got reasonably close in the end.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's Tom Brett and James Kettleborough celebrate the NCCA T20 Cup win.
Fellow spinner Tom Brett has been sharing his knowledge with Anis Raza. Picture: Alfie Shenton

“There were nerves the night before and it was tough to get some sleep in the hotel. But then it was more excitement and getting out there and playing with a smile on my face.

“Hopefully I’ve matured and I can be part of the team for the long haul and play for Staffordshire as much as possible.

“In all honesty, in the last couple of years, I didn’t think I’d play for Staffs again. That’s no disrespect to the county, it’s how I saw it as a cricketer. I thought the side was too good for me to get in.

“There were key spinners in there like Paul Byrne and Bretty signing in the winter. But I’ve done well for the development side and managed to get back in.”

‘The door is never shut’

Raza also believes that his journey back from the wilderness can serve as a source of inspiration.

There’s also the proof that players don’t have to be figuring in the top flight of local cricket to be picked, with Raza’s Ashcombe Park plying their trade in Division One of the North Staffs and South Cheshire League.

“It’s a massive thing that it doesn’t matter where you play you can be selected,” said Raza.

“I tell youngsters at my club that if you perform, you might get a chance in the development side. If you keep going there’s no reason why you can’t play in the first team.

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“Some people might think it’s a long shot, but it’s not. You only have to look at Tom Moulton. He scored 145 for the under-21s in the week and has been rewarded with a place in the team.

“Ashcombe Park have been really good to me. A lot of other clubs might not have given me the amount of opportunities that I’ve had.

“A few years ago you might not have been noticed unless you were in the Premier Division. But it shows that the coaching staff are looking through the divisions.”

‘Back to business’

Raza and Brett’s ‘bromance’ will be rekindled this weekend at Sandwell Park. Staffordshire will look to build on their opening-round win at Suffolk.

They face a tough challenge, though, against a Buckinghamshire side who won all four matches last season to win promotion from Division Two East.

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And they marked their top-division bow by beating Norfolk in their opening game.

“We’ve got a bit of momentum, albeit after only one match,” said Raza. “I don’t know too much about Bucks, but I prefer it that way.

“I just play the player and not the name. Hopefully we can put in another good performance. I feel like I fit into the Staffs dressing room and it’s a great atmosphere to be a part of.”

Picture: Anis Raza took six wickets in the game on his return to Staffordshire duty.