Callum Hawkins shines, but Staffordshire suffer Trophy exit

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's Callum Hawkins

Staffordshire’s Knockout Trophy campaign came to an disappointing end at the hands of Shropshire.

Staffs needed to beat their neighbours – and hope that Herefordshire defeated Suffolk – to stand a chance of progressing to the quarter-finals.

As it was, Staffordshire were left licking their wounds after a six-wicket defeat at Moddershall & Oulton in the Group Two contest.

The script was a familiar one to those played out in the recent 50-over defeats by Norfolk and Herefordshire.

Staffs’ top order generally failed to fire and they were limited to 227-9 after skipper James Kettleborough won the toss and elected to bat.

And then there were no breakthroughs in the powerplay as Shropshire generally eased to their target to leave Staffs heading for a group exit for the second successive season.

There was both team and individual disappointment for Staffordshire.

The team aspect was their failure to qualify for the last eight, while Callum Hawkins sampled personal agony.

Hawkins held the Staffs batting together and had made his way to 99 – and in touching distance of a maiden county ton on his home ground.

But with family, friends and team-mates among those willing him on to three figures, he was caught at backward point.

Hawkins slumped to his knees, not quite believing what had happened, before he made his way back to the pavilion.

‘From high to low’

The sinking feeling experienced by Hawkins ran along the same lines as Staffordshire’s Trophy campaign.

An opening-round win at Suffolk hinted that a new approach could reap rewards for them this summer.

However, that impressive success in East Anglia was followed by three straight defeats to leave them going back to the drawing board.

Staffordshire actually started in decent fashion against Shropshire as they took first use.

Openers Hawkins and Zen Malik put on 46 for the first wicket in 7.5 overs – but in the space of 12 balls, the hosts’ innings started to unravel.

And it was seamer Sam Ellis who was the architect of an all-too-familiar collapse.

Malik, having made 22, nibbled at an Ellis delivery and provided keeper Ben Lees with a routine take.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough.
James Kettleborough was out for a first-ball duck against Shropshire. Picture: Pete Stonier

From the very next ball, captain Kettleborough departed for a golden duck when he nicked to Tom Fell at first slip.

In the blink of an eye, Staffs were 56-3 when Michael Hill was drawn forward and feathered through to Lees.

It was a huge blow to see their three senior batsmen depart in quick succession. That left a recovery mission in the hands of the youngsters once again.

Hawkins was joined by Reeve Evitts as they looked to soak up the pressure.

They had put on 30, before Evitts fell for 14. He was tempted out of his crease by left-arm spinner Jacques Banton – and Lees did the rest by whipping off the bails.

‘Time to stop the bleeding’

Much-needed rebuilding work was then masterminded by Hawkins and Matt Morris.

They were forced to play watchfully with shaky foundations in place. But they managed to carve out a fifth-wicket stand of 87 in 23 overs.

Hawkins was growing in confidence. He unleashed some beautiful shots, including a superb six over extra cover.

Morris ticked along nicely, but as the pair looked to really accelerate, their partnership came to an end.

Morris, having made 35, slapped spinner Lewis Evans into the covers to provide Joe Stanley with a catch.

Nils Priestley was quickly dismissed for four. But Hawkins was still providing the glue to Staffs’ innings.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's Matt Morris.
Matt Morris chipped in with 35 for Staffordshire. Picture: Pete Stonier

He had made his way to 99, hitting eight fours and three sixes, but a coveted county ton eluded him.

Hawkins attempted to guide a delivery from seamer Oliver Currill behind square. But he was snaffled by Fell to deny him the Staffs milestone.

At 180-7, Staffs needed some quick runs from somewhere to get to any sort of competitive score.

Liam Hurt (24) and Sam Atkinson (10) chipped in, but Ellis returned to dismiss both to end up with excellent figures of 5-49.

‘Risk-free cricket’

Shropshire didn’t have to take risks in their run chase – unless Staffordshire made early inroads.

But that hasn’t consistently happened in the 50-over format this summer… and didn’t again here.

It was ironic as well that, given the hosts’ batting struggles, three Shropshire batters who qualify to play for Staffs should be the ones to put the final nail in their Trophy coffin.

Opener Ollie Westbury, who plays his club cricket for Himley, and Walsall-born George Hargrave quickly settled into their task.

They compiled an opening stand of 78 as Staffs barely looked like parting the pair.

It took the introduction of spinner Anis Raza to split them when he bowled Hargrave for 32.

That merely brought Wolverhampton’s Fell to the crease to all-but end Staffs’ aspirations.

Westbury and Fell put on 103 for the second wicket as they caressed the ball around in the sunshine.

‘Late success’

It was arguably a surprise when Staffs claimed another scalp. Off-spinner Morris trapped the experienced Fell lbw for 54. He hit three fours and two sixes.

Westbury looked like he might be the man to guide Shropshire over the line, but having reached 82, he also exited.

He slashed at a delivery from paceman Hurt, who finished with figures of 2-37 and was caught by keeper Hawkins at the second attempt.

However, Westbury, who struck nine fours, had more than done his job to leave Shropshire close to the winning line on 189-3.

Hurt and Hawkins teamed up again to account for Banton (16) – but that merely glossed over matters for Staffs.

Currill (18no) and Andre Bradford (16no) saw Shropshire to their target with more than five overs to spare.

It was a relatively tame way for Staffordshire to go out of the competition.

They now turn their attention to red-ball matters, which start against Bedfordshire at Checkley in a couple of weeks in their opening Division One East clash.

Main image: Callum Hawkins made 99 in Staffordshire’s NCCA Knockout Trophy defeat by Shropshire. Picture: Pete Stonier