Historic Staffordshire innings was just a blur, admits Nils Priestley

Staffordshire County Cricket Club batsman Nils Priestley.

Don’t ask Nils Priestley to give you an in-depth rundown of his record-breaking Staffordshire innings… because he can’t remember.

Priestley became the first Staffs player to ever score a Twenty20 hundred when he smashed 147 not out in the NCCA finals day game against Berkshire.

The 22-year-old Swarkestone all-rounder crashed 12 fours and 10 sixes in his 66-ball masterclass as he powered the county to 252-2 – and ultimately a 68-run success.

It was fitting that Priestley was the man to create history for Staffs, having come agonisingly close to achieving the feat in the group game at Northumberland.

On that occasion, he made 97 off 39 balls before being caught on the boundary with three figures in sight.

“I don’t think I will do something like for a long time, if ever,” said Priestley. “It was very special. But I couldn’t tell you about it because it was just a blur.

“When you’re doing something like that – and everything is going your way – whatever I did seemed to be going for a four or six.

“I felt as though I wasn’t going to get out. Sub-consciously you know where you’re hitting it, but I wasn’t really thinking.

“I was taking it ball by ball and my mindset was that I know my strengths and I’m going to concentrate on them.

“At Northumberland I was out for 97 trying to hit a six, and this time went four, four two to get to 99. I wasn’t going to throw it away this time.

“I’ve watched a little bit of it back, mainly the boundaries.”

‘Final innings was more important’

Not content with his big-hitting heroics, Priestley then made 57 in the final and took four wickets as Staffordshire beat Cornwall to win the T20 competition for the first time.

His batting performance in the final was crucial after Staffs lost early wickets and were eventually bowled out for 119. They prevailed by four runs.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club batsman Nils Priestley on his way to a century against Berkshire.
Staffordshire County Cricket Club batsman Nils Priestley on his way to a century against Berkshire.

“My 57 in the final was the more important innings, without a doubt,” added Priestley. “After losing early wickets, Michael Hill came in and said ‘I know what you want to do, but you have to think about what is best for the team in this situation’.

“I was disappointed to get out because I did feel as though I’d let people down.

“If we hadn’t have won, my 147 would have just been a number. It would have been ‘yeah, you got 147, but you didn’t win the competition’. That’s why the final innings was so important.”

‘Pressure told’

Staffordshire managed to make early inroads into the Cornwall line-up in their run chase, but at 89-4 the Duchy looked to be on course to take the silverware home.

But Peter Wilshaw dismissed Joe Phillips for 32 which turned the tables and Staffs seized their chance to close out the game.

“We wanted a bigger total, but you’re always in the game in a final with runs on the board,” explained Priestley.

‘We can’t be complacent when we start Knockout Trophy campaign’

“When we got Chris Gibson early, we thought they would panic. He got 60-odd in their semi-final win against Hertfordshire when they were chasing a low score.

“The big wicket was when the lad ran past a ball from Pete and Spencer (Byatt) stumped him. After each wicket Hurty (Liam Hurt) said that whoever is the calmest team wins.

“We just had to stick to our skills and execute them.”

‘Top of the charts’

Priestley finished the T20 format as the Most Valuable Player across the National Counties Cricket Association, scoring 397 runs and taking 10 wickets.

He admitted before the season started that he wanted to make an impression for the county. But the former Abbotsholme School pupil might not have envisaged how big it would turn out to be.

Staffordshire's Nils Priestley on his way to a century against Berkshire.
Staffordshire’s Nils Priestley on his way to a century against Berkshire.

“I probably didn’t expect to make as big an impact as I have,” he admitted. “I back myself, but almost 400 runs at a strike rate of 200 is something to be proud of.

“I’m happy to contribute with the ball as well. I don’t just want to be viewed as a top-order slogger. I want to be a three-dimensional cricketer.”

‘Worcestershire chance’

Priestley, who previously played four List A matches for Derbyshire before being released, has turned heads higher up the cricket ladder.

He has played in two T20 matches for Worcestershire seconds this week, scoring 51 against Warwickshire on Wednesday.

“I got the call to play for Worcestershire before Sunday, but finals day obviously helped my case even more,” he said.

“It was nice that Worcestershire trusted me at the top of the order and it enables me to put myself in the shop window.

“It’s also good for the NCCA as well, it strengthens their cause when players are being given opportunities.

“I 100 per cent want to take this chance with Worcester. I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t think something could come of it.”

‘Staffordshire focus’

Priestley might have one eye on seizing his chance to return to the first-class stage – he is representing Worcestershire seconds again next week.

But he says he’s also focused on maintaining Staffordshire’s momentum as they embark on the next block of fixtures.

Staffs head to Port Talbot on Sunday to play Wales in their opening Knockout Trophy Group Four match.

“I want to play every game for Staffordshire. I’m really enjoying myself and we now focus on the 50-over games and travel with real confidence,” added Priestley.

“It’s like an intensified club cricket environment. There’s still the banter and camaraderie you get on a Saturday. But it’s the best of the best in terms of club cricketers.

“We are the best T20 side in the country and that might put a target on our backs. It will be interesting to see how we handle that pressure as a group.

“We have that at Swarkestone where people rock up and play us like it’s a cup final. But I’d prefer to have that target on us because it means we’ve been successful.”

Nils Priestley is being kindly sponsored by Leighton Hall Auctions for the 2023 season.

Main image: Nils Priestley takes the applause after scoring 147 not out against Berkshire. Pictures: Alfie Shenton