Fresh slice of history for Nils Priestley in Staffordshire’s easy NCCA Knockout Trophy win

Staffordshire County Cricket Club all-rounder Nils Priestley

Nils Priestley became the first Staffordshire player to take six wickets in a Knockout Trophy game as the county started this summer’s campaign with a crushing victory over Suffolk.

Left-arm spinner Priestley’s haul of 6-37, which included a hat-trick, sent Suffolk sliding to 170 all out at Mildenhall as they forlornly pursued Staffs’ imposing 286-3 from their 50 overs.

This was also a proud day for Rohan Vallabhaneni. The 17-year-old Newcastle & Hartshill batsman was handed his Staffs debut.

It was a clinical performance by Staffs. The win was set up by an excellent batting display, led by skipper James Kettleborough.

Kettleborough scored 100, while Michael Hill added 82 not out and Zen Malik set the tone at the top of the order with 63.

Suffolk’s batsmen struggled to break the shackles imposed by their visitors, despite Darren Ironside making 67.

The East Anglians couldn’t get on top of the required run rate. And Priestley’s historic act put the icing on the cake for Staffordshire.

It was the perfect start to the Group Two programme for Staffs as they look to make amends for last summer’s disappointment in the 50-over format.

Dark clouds lingered over the 2023 Knockout Trophy schedule – both literally and metaphorically – as the weather and some below-par performances meant Staffs failed to qualify from their group.

‘New plans’

Head coach Andy Carr promised a fresh approach to this particular white-ball section of the National Counties Cricket Association season.

And that was quickly evident after Kettleborough won the toss and elected to bat in glorious sunshine in the east of the country.

The method of blazing the ball in the powerplay, which last summer cost wickets and left Staffs needing a rebuilding job, was dispensed with.

Instead there was a more measured take, with steady accumulation in the early stages giving way to acceleration towards the closing stages with wickets in hand.

That point was proved as openers Callum Hawkins and Malik put on 21 for the first wicket before the former fell in the seventh over.

Hawkins, looking to pounce on a loose ball from seamer Rajan Singh, could only find Adam Jones in the covers.

That brought Kettleborough to the crease, but it was Malik who took the lead role.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough.
James Kettleborough scored a century in Staffordshire’s NCCA Knockout Trophy win against Suffolk at Mildenhall. Picture: Pete Stonier

The Leek batsman, fresh from scoring back-to-back hundreds for Glamorgan in their Second XI Championship game against Warwickshire, looked in imperious touch.

With nifty footwork and exquisite timing he raced to his half-century off just 51 balls. There were inside-out shots over cover and flicks off his legs for six. And another ton looked to be his for the taking.

But having reached 63, he mistimed a delivery from spinner Jack Beaumont and was snapped up by Mark Smith.

That brought an end to a productive 83-run stand in the 23rd over. But better was to come from a Staffs perspective.

‘Huge stand’

Kettleborough and Hill then put on 154 in 24.3 overs to push Staffordshire towards a defendable total.

Hill stuck true to his mantra of playing himself in and then moving through the gears.

Sharp running was intertwined with some clean boundary hitting as Staffs kept wickets in the bank for a late assault.

Kettleborough reached his 50 in 70 deliveries with Hill notching his own landmark in three fewer balls.

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The Staffs captain reached his first one-day ton for the county late in the innings and punched the air in delight. But he was gone from the next ball he faced as a leading edge off Singh was pouched by Ben Parker.

Kettleborough hit four fours during his 108-ball innings.

Hill then took centre stage with four boundaries and four maximums to end the visitors’ innings in style.

‘Fast start’

Staffs made an early breakthrough in Suffolk’s reply when Jones nicked a Rory Haydon delivery to keeper Hawkins to fall for a duck.

Alex Maynard went on the attack to hit a rapid 32. However, he succumbed when he was caught by Sam Atkinson off paceman Liam Hurt.

That left Suffolk on 46-2, before Ironside and Ollie Burle rebuilt matters with a stand of 42.

Boundaries were at a premium, though, and in attempting to force the issue, Burle was bowled by Atkinson for 16.

Ben Parker nudged his way to 15, but as the run-rate started to climb into the territory of seven-and-a-half an over, he was castled by left-arm spinner Tom Brett.

Brett produced an economical 10-over stint, conceding just 26 runs to sit alongside his wicket of Burle.

His pressure-building then allowed Priestley to reap the rewards later in the innings.

His fellow left-armer got in on the act when Beaumont holed out to Atkinson to fall for 12 as Suffolk stumbled to 148-5.

‘The main man’

And it was midway through the 37th over when Priestley continued his quest to write another piece of history.

He’s no stranger to Staffordshire records. He became the first county batsman to score a T20 century last summer on finals day against Berkshire.

It was matters with the ball which occupied Priestley’s thoughts this time.

Suffolk were arguably out of the game at this point on 155-5. But any small chink of hope they had was soon extinguished by Priestley’s treble.

Ironside was caught and bowled, before Jacob Marston was trapped lbw and Daniel Shanks was bowled.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's Tom Brett
Left-arm spinner Tom Brett produced an excellent spell to take 1-26 from his 10 overs. Picture: Pete Stonier

It was fitting that Priestley should then take the last two wickets to fall to make history.

Josh Cantrell was snapped up Kettleborough, before Singh looked take Priestley down town. But he only managed to find the safe hands of Hurt in the deep.

That secured a comprehensive success for Staffordshire, but it’s only a start.

They won the first game last summer, against Wales, but ended up failing to qualify.

Carr and Kettleborough’s new plans came to fruition in East Anglia. But they will know it’s just the first hurdle overcome in their quest to enjoy a more bountiful 50-over summer.

In the other Group Two match, Norfolk thrashed Herefordshire by nine wickets.

Main image: Nils Priestley took six wickets in Staffordshire’s NCCA Knockout Trophy win against Suffolk. Picture: Pete Stonier