‘I’m reaching the stage of my cricketing journey where I want to win things’

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough

James Kettleborough is regarded as one of the best batsmen on the National Counties Cricket Association circuit. But he insists he still has plenty to prove as he embarks on a new chapter in his career.

Kettleborough, aged 30, has ended his long association with Bedfordshire to join Staffordshire. That’s probably not too much of a surprise given that he resides with wife Jenny in Trentham.

The right-handed batsman played for Beds for 13 years, scoring more than 3,700 runs. He also tried his luck on the first-class scene with Northamptonshire and Glamorgan before skippering Derbyshire’s second team.

In total, Kettleborough featured in 22 four-day matches in the pro ranks, as well as five List A contests.

However, it is on the NCCA scene where he has particularly flourished, but he admits he’s a tough man to please.

“I do have points to prove, 100 per cent,” said Kettleborough. “I could probably put together an infinite list of people who doubt me.

“But whether you refer to it as the inner voice in your head, little man on your shoulder or the bloke in the mirror every morning, however you choose to address your self doubt, I’ve got it in abundance.

“Don’t get me wrong, I have the awareness of when I do get things right. But I guess it’s just the way I was brought up to never be completely satisfied. So whatever my stats and numbers look like, I’m always asking questions of myself and my ability.

“I’m reaching the stage in my cricketing journey where I want to win things. So there’s still so much to prove, even if only to myself.”

‘Family link’

Kettleborough followed his dad John in representing Bedfordshire, which made the decision to leave even more difficult.

But with him living in the Potteries and the travelling across the country to represent Beds, he eventually felt the next stage of his career would be best served in Staffordshire.

“Since we moved to the area it’s naturally something that crossed my mind. But I was very aware that Staffordshire had an established side and certainly didn’t think it was a given that they would necessarily be interested,” explained Kettleborough.

“So initially when people mentioned the idea I would dismiss it immediately and stick with my loyalties to Bedfordshire. I was so passionate about following in my dad’s footsteps in representing my home county.

James Kettleborough is taking on a new challenge with Staffordshire.
James Kettleborough is taking on a new challenge with Staffordshire.

“But two seasons of all the travelling to both home and away games started to take its toll. So when the opportunity was presented to me it certainly gave me a lot to consider. And while it was a fantastic opportunity, it still wasn’t an easy decision at all.

“After a while it began to annoy me as I just couldn’t reach a decision. The not knowing what I was going to do was frustrating, but after a couple of conversations with people close to me it became a lot clearer.

“Sometimes when you can’t make your mind up with something it’s really helpful to get an external perspective on it. I was just getting too emotionally caught up in the whole process.”

‘Quality performer’

Kettleborough has been the mainstay of Bedfordshire’s batting line-up for a number of seasons – and he showed off his quality last summer.

He scored a century against Staffordshire in a losing cause in the Championship before smashing a remarkable 192 not out against Northamptonshire in the NCCA Showcase game which pushed Bedfordshire so close to victory.

“I was proud to represent my home county, made some amazing memories with some of my closest friends. And I’ve got some real satisfaction reflecting on some of the performances I put in over the 13 years,” he added.

“In 1983 my Dad played for Bedfordshire against Staffordshire – a side featuring Dave Cartledge and Nick Archer – at Dunstable and scored a hundred in the second innings.

“So in 2022 to play for Bedfordshire against Staffordshire at Dunstable and repeat the same feat is something quite niche. I’m really proud of that, it holds a lot of sentiment. It’s nice that it’ll be one of my last memories playing for the county.”

‘Huge honour’

Kettleborough is now looking forward, though, to his new challenge with Staffordshire. And it’s one which has come with more than just the responsibility of scoring runs.

He has been appointed Staffordshire captain across all three formats, working alongside new head coach Andy Carr and director of cricket Dave Cartledge.

“It’s a huge honour to be asked to be captain,” he added. “All the history and prestige of the county and those who have come before isn’t wasted on me. To be asked to take on such a role is something I’ve not taken lightly and I’m very humbled, grateful and proud to do so.

“Naturally it adds extra pressure, but you won’t find anyone putting more pressure on me than I do myself.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough
Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough

“Whether that’s as a captain or just a player I try to set high standards of myself. Of course there is added pressure, but that’s not something new to me.

“As captain I’d love to say that I’ll emulate what we’re watching with Stokes and McCullum and ‘BazBall’. But we’d be kidding ourselves.

“I don’t think there’ll be anything particularly ‘out there’ or garish about my style of captaincy. I’ll always be honest with my players and I can only hope for the same in return.

“I do have so much belief in the group of players and I will always stick by them.

“I would love for them to feel confident enough to show off how good they can be. That will give us, as a team, the best chance of succeeding.”

‘Winter work’

Kettleborough had a decent idea of the quality at Staffordshire’s disposal having played against them at NCCA level. And he also plays his club cricket in the North Staffs and South Cheshire League with Checkley.

He has spent considerable time alongside Carr, his Checkley team-mate, overseeing the county’s winter training programme.

“We have a talented group and it’s just our job of translating that into on-field performances,” said Kettleborough.

“It was difficult to reduce the numbers down to pick squads. But actually with the structure we have in place it was never a case of telling a player we don’t think they’re good enough and this is the end of the road.

“There will still be loads of opportunities for the players who didn’t quite make the final squad whether that be in the under-18s, under-21s or senior development side.

Tom Brett is one of Staffordshire County Cricket Club's new signings.
Tom Brett is one of Staffordshire County Cricket Club’s new signings.

“Andy and I are quite happy to be proved wrong. If someone is banging the door down with performances we certainly won’t be naive enough to ignore those.

“On the flip side, reducing the numbers down to an official squad is a valuable exercise. It should hopefully give us, as players, a better sense of belonging and a real purpose in the squad.

“I always say there’s nothing better than feeling wanted and valued. I hope the players selected in the squad appreciate what that means. They are players we fully back and believe in to perform for the county – and one another – this summer.”

‘New faces, fresh optimism’

As well as Kettleborough arriving, Staffordshire have also secured the services of his Bedfordshire team-mate Tom Brett, a left-arm spinner, as well as former Lancashire paceman Liam Hurt.

That leaves Staffordshire supporters eyeing up a piece of silverware this summer.

“Any sports person will tell you they want to be part of something successful, compete and win things and I’m no different,” added the new captain.

“This squad certainly has the ability to do just that, but we are also aware that nothing is given to us. We’re going to have to work exceptionally hard between now and the end of the season if we want any of this potential success to come to fruition.

“The idea of challenging for, and winning, trophies is a great outcome. But in order to be in a position to do so we need to focus on the process to get us there. Creating the right environment to encourage growth, for players to express themselves and feel confident to show everyone how good they are is our current goal. Hopefully a successful outcome is the result of getting the process right.

“It would be great if we nail this straight away and we are always trying to work closely with the whole squad for feedback. But I’m sure we will mistakes along the way but only from those can we learn to ensure we get it right in time.


“I would love for it to be something long term, we’ve got a great group of players. But I’m very aware of the talent coming through too. I would love to play a role in bringing them through and aiding their development when the time is right for them to step up.

“However, ultimately these decisions aren’t in our hands and we don’t get to write our own scripts. I’m just focusing on the 2023 season, giving it everything I can and I’ll address anything beyond that when that time comes.”

James Kettleborough is being kindly sponsored by Sharp, Cross & Mann Solicitors for the 2023 NCCA season.

Interview by The Sentinel

Main picture: James Kettleborough has started a new chapter in his career by joining Staffordshire. All images by Alfie Shenton