Disappointment for Staffordshire as Wiltshire secure easy Knockout Trophy win

Staffordshire County Cricket Club batsman Michael Hill.

Staffordshire endured a disappointing day at the office as they suffered a comprehensive defeat by Wiltshire.

Staffs had opened up their Knockout Trophy Group Four campaign with victory on their trip to Wales last weekend.

But the NCCA Twenty20 Cup champions were left licking their wounds at Smethwick today as visitors Wiltshire walked away with a seven-wicket triumph.

Staffordshire had found themselves 24-3 early on. But half-centuries from Michael Hill and Matthew Morris enabled them to eventually recover to 214 all out.

That looked like being a total which could be competitive if Staffs bowled as they had done in their win at Port Talbot seven days’ ago.

However, they couldn’t hit those heights and Wiltshire cruised to their target with six of their 50 overs remaining. That was thanks to an unbroken 114-run stand for the fourth wicket between Tom Cullen and Ben Draper.

Staffordshire could have no complaints about the result as they were outplayed by in all facets of the game.

Skipper James Kettleborough won the toss and opted to bat on Staffordshire’s first visit to the venue in 41 years – but they didn’t make the start they would have hoped for.

It was a combination of left-arm seamer Josh Croom and wicketkeeper Draper which put the hosts on the back foot early on.

Callum Hawkins and Peter Wilshaw both nicked through to the gloveman. Kettleborough was surprised by some extra bounce which took the shoulder of the bat and was pouched by Draper.

‘Key partnership’

A rebuilding mission was the order of the day at that point, with Hill and Morris having to rein in their shots as they couldn’t afford to give Wiltshire another leg up.

The Staffs duo gradually started to become more expansive. But they were wary that wickets were required at the death for any potential dart at a larger score.

And their 101-run stand was broken in the 36th over. Hill, having made 63, was adjudged lbw to Harry Broderick. He hit seven fours and one six.

Debutant Callum Leese, handed his chance after Nil Priestley was ruled out because of injury, was then unfortunate to depart. He was strangled down the leg side off Chris Aubrey to fall for two.

Those two quick dismissals undid a fair proportion of Hill and Morris’ battling work. But the latter still had work to do to see Staffs beyond the 200-mark.

That was not a foregone conclusion given that they were 134-5 at that point. But the doughty left-hander managed to up the pace as the innings ticked down into the final stages.

The issue for Morris was that partners continued to come and go. Dan Richardson departed for 13 and Liam Hurt was victim of a mix-up and run out.

Sam Atkinson chipped in with 10 and Rory Haydon added 13 – before both fell to Croom, who ended up with figures of 5-32.

Morris was unbeaten on 71 when the innings came to a conclusion when Tom Brett was bowled by Broderick in the final over of the innings.

‘Wiltshire in charge’

Staffordshire knew that a similar start to the one they had been on the receiving end of would be needed on the resumption.

However, finding a consistent length was troublesome for Staffs as Wiltshire showed intent at the crease.

They gave a fine lesson in playing white-ball cricket. They pushed for quick singles and continued to look busy in their work.

Wiltshire had stuck 30 on the board before the breakthrough came in the seventh over. Jake Goodwin (25) was well caught by keeper Hawkins off paceman Hurt.

Opener Cullen and Jack Mynott quickly took any sting out of the situation as they put on 52 for the second wicket.

Spinner Brett thought he had Cullen caught early in his spell, but the umpire disagreed. But he did strike two balls later when he trapped Mynott lbw for 38.

Wiltshire skipper Ed Young was quickly into his stride. Although he was slightly fortunate to get away with a slog-sweep off Brett which just evaded Hill and went for six.

But having made a rapid 19, he walked down the wicket to seamer Atkinson and was bowled.

That left Wiltshire 103-3. Staffordshire knew that another couple of quick wickets could well leave the match in the balance.

There was no panic in the visitors’ camp, though, with Cullen happy to drop anchor and allow Draper to join him and tick off the runs.

‘No worries’

Staffs, in truth, had the odd moment of hope when decisions didn’t go their way, but Cullen and Draper were largely untroubled.

Cullen walked off unbeaten on 67, hitting four fours, while Draper’s 57 not out contained six boundaries.

Staffs would have to hold their hands up and concede that they had been outplayed. Wiltshire looked well drilled and will fancy their chances after winning their first two matches.

But while Wiltshire have made the perfect start, Staffs now know that they need to win their last two games to progress.

And first up is a trip to Dorset next week. Challenges don’t get much tougher than that.

Main image: Michael Hill made a half-century for Staffordshire in the NCCA Knockout Trophy defeat by Wiltshire. Picture: Alfie Shenton