‘I was proud to captain the county and it was even better that we won’

Staffordshire County Cricket Club batsman Michael Hill

Michael Hill had an unexpected surprise in Staffordshire’s NCCA Championship victory at Norfolk this week.

The Meakins batsman has been renowned for churning out runs since making his county debut back in 2014.

However, he added another string to his Staffs bow at Manor Park after being tasked with captaining the side on the final day.

Regular skipper James Kettleborough was on the sidelines nursing a thumb injury sustained while batting.

So that left Hill thrust into the top job as Staffordshire pushed for victory.

It turned out perfectly as well. Norfolk, 105 runs behind on the first innings, were dismissed for 138 to leave Staffs romping to a 10-wicket success after reaching their 34-run target.

“Ketts (James Kettleborough) was up at hospital and we were still batting at the time,” explained Hill.

“He came back and I said ‘are you fielding?’. He just replied ‘no, you are going to be skippering’.

“I was thrown in at the deep end, but it was a challenge that I enjoyed. The wicket was doing plenty and I could literally throw the ball to the bowlers and ask them how many catchers they wanted.

“It was a proud moment to captain the county and even better that we managed to get a win.”

‘Fine afternoon’

Left-arm spinner Anis Raza picked up five wickets on Tuesday afternoon, with fellow slow left-armer Tom Brett adding a couple of victims.

And seamer Liam Hurt claimed the other three victims to ensure that Staffordshire returned home with 22 points.

“On the field there was so much going on,” said 32-year-old Hill. “Our bowlers just had to bowl six balls in an area and you felt something was going to happen all of the time.

“It was a case of gut feeling in terms of how I approached it.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough.
Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough sat out the final day against Norfolk because of injury. Picture: Alfie Shenton

“The wicket was turning big, so I went with the spinners and when the lower order came in I brought Hurty back for a blast down the hill with the wind behind him – and he got a couple.

“It’s nice as a captain when you have moments like that and your decisions are justified.

“I took Anis off when he was bowling really well, but he was starting to get a bit tired after bowling nearly 20 overs on the bounce.

“Bretty came back on and finished it off. It was important to get the win and we played all of the positive cricket throughout the game.”

‘Great experience’

Hill admits it was an interesting day sampling life as Staffordshire’s captain.

But he says that his job was made easier due to the firepower at his disposal.

“Since the winter we have lost some senior players who would give the captain their ideas,” explained Hill.

“I’ve always been happy to chip in, especially now that we have a really young group. You have to step up to the plate and Ketts has sometimes leant on me and asked me for my thoughts or ideas.

“It was good to see it from a captain’s point of view. I’ve played a lot of cricket in various leagues and in NCCA Championship matches and understand how quickly a game can change on a Tuesday.

Anis Raza helped Staffordshire to victory over Suffolk.
Anis Raza helped Staffordshire to victory over Norfolk.

“I never felt panicked at any stage. There were so many overs to bowl and it helped me to think clearly making my decisions.

“I had a clear image in my head about how the game was going to go – and then you rely on gut feeling.

“The big thing is having quality bowlers. The seamers are all at different stages and bring different things to the table.

James Kettleborough eager for Staffordshire to increase NCCA title pressure

“Hurty knows his field and how to go about things. The young lads, Sam (Atkinson) and Rory (Haydon) are confident boys.

“Sam has got fire in his belly and wants to get into a battle. Rory is a captain’s dream because he doesn’t bowl a bad ball.

“Bretty is experienced, while Anis is in fine form and has plenty of confidence at the moment.”

‘Batting impact’

Hill had earlier played a key role with the bat in the formative stages of the third day.

He compiled an unbeaten 63 to push Staffordshire’s overnight lead from 20 up to 105, which proved to be decisive.

“It was difficult on a pitch which was seaming and spinning,” added Hill.

Dave Cartledge urges Staffordshire to focus on their own task

“It’s probably the first time I’ve played at Manor Park where it has moved off the straight.

“The innings was a challenge, but it was all about accumulating runs. I couldn’t go at my normal tempo because the wicket didn’t allow it.

“I just had to be the anchor and make sure I let the guys bat around me. It was nice to get a score because I’d had a lean time in the previous two games.”

‘All to play for’

Hill returns to the ranks for Sunday’s Division One East game against Lincolnshire at Checkley.

The victory at Norfolk saw Staffs close the gap to leaders Buckinghamshire to eight points after their match was abandoned.

If Staffordshire can beat Lincs, that would leave Bucks needing to win at Suffolk next weekend to seal the divisional title.

Same again for Staffordshire as they prepare for Lincs clash

“It’s going to be a tough game against Lincolnshire, but we’re going into it with confidence,” said Hill. “The weather has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons and on Monday afternoon it looked like Bucks had the title wrapped up.

“They were romping home with three successive wins, but that’s the beauty of cricket, anything can happen.

“They are a quality side, but we want to get the points on the board so they have to go to Suffolk and win.”

Michael Hill is being kindly sponsored by Wulfran Specialised Fasteners for the 2023 season.

Picture: Michael Hill captained Staffordshire on the final day against Norfolk. Image: Alfie Shenton