James Kettleborough eager for Staffordshire to increase NCCA title pressure

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough

James Kettleborough says he’s delighted that Staffordshire have taken their NCCA Division One East title quest down to the final game.

Staffs pocketed a 10-wicket victory in just two days of play at Norfolk this week to bring home 22 points from their penultimate Championship encounter.

And with leaders Buckinghamshire seeing their game against Lincolnshire at Chesham fall victim to the rain on the final day, that saw their advantage trimmed from 18 points down to eight.

Bucks miss out on this weekend’s round of fixtures. But Staffs wind up their divisional campaign at Checkley where Lincs are the visitors.

If Staffordshire can secure 21 points or more, that would leave Buckinghamshire requiring a victory over Suffolk at Copdock the following weekend to progress to the Championship final.

“What we have done is given ourselves a chance,” said skipper Kettleborough. “We’re going into the last game with a chance of winning the division. I couldn’t ask for much more from the players.

“Whether we take that opportunity remains to be seen. All we can do is put pressure on Buckinghamshire if we’re able to.

“At the moment I’m just really satisfied with the win we achieved at Norfolk.”

It was a remarkable success at Manor Park after the first day had been called off after water had seeped on to the wicket.

However, Staffordshire still found a way to ensure that they maintained their push for top spot in the division.

They bowled out Norfolk for 142 in their first innings on day two, before reaching 247-9 declared on the final day.

‘Bowlers come to the fore’

Staffordshire’s bowlers then went to work and skittled the East Anglians for 138 second time around. That left them 34 runs to win in 17 overs… which was never going to be an issue.

“We had plenty of conversations going into the game about how we could possibly win it,” added Kettleborough.

“It was how we could seize moments in each session to help us to win the match and the lads did tremendously well to do that.

“We went into the match with a positive mindset and it really paid dividends.

“It was a tricky one because going into the last day we were 20 ahead and we’d spoken about how we were going to go about things.

“You couldn’t plan too far in advance and we did have a couple of contingency plans as the game unfolded.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club batsman Michael Hill
Michael Hill captained Staffordshire on the final day against Norfolk after James Kettleborough  suffered an injury. Picture: Alfie Shenton

“Going 150 to 180 ahead of them would be nice, but we thought 105 ahead put us in a very strong position.

“That can put the opposition in a negative mindset. We are talking about winning the game, they are just thinking they can only draw and have to survive.

“But huge credit has to go to the players for going out there with a positive attitude and completing the job.

“It also spurred us on when we found out that the Bucks game had been called off. That did give us a boost.”

‘Sitting out’

Kettleborough had a different vantage point on the final day after not taking to the field.

A thumb injury sustained while batting meant he stayed on the other side of the boundary line. He handed the captaincy to Michael Hill.

“It was a straightforward decision for Hilly to be the captain,” added Kettleborough.

“He’s got lots of talent and skills and it’s immeasurable how often he’s given me advice in matches.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's Anis Raza
Anis Raza took five wickets in Norfolk’s second innings as Staffordshire wrapped up an impressive win. Picture: Alfie Shenton

“It was a no-brainer. He’s coming up to his 50th Championship appearance, he knows his cricket and he knows the group.

“He had a wry smile on his face when I told him he was going to be captain – and he led us over the line.

“It was certainly different from my point of view sitting on the sidelines watching.

“But I always genuinely believed we were going to do what we needed.”

‘Team effort’

Spinner Tom Brett picked up five wickets in Norfolk’s first innings, while fellow slow-left armer Anis Raza did likewise in their second innings.

There were also half-centuries from Matthew Morris, Zen Malik and Hill when Staffordshire batted.

“It’s easy to look at a couple of guys who got five-fors and give them all the plaudits,” said Kettleborough.

“They did bowl exceptionally well, but the three seamers (Liam Hurt, Sam Atkinson and Rory Haydon) all created pressure. They dried up the runs which is what we spoke about after West Brom (a defeat by Bucks).

“Matty and Zen then compiled a fine partnership to take us ahead of Norfolk. And Hilly played beautifully on the final morning.”

‘Thank you’

Staffordshire’s supporters also travelled in numbers in what was a 400-mile round trip.

Kettleborough said that the backing from the sidelines was also a big factor in another successful jaunt to East Anglia following the earlier Championship win at Suffolk.

“The support is so valuable,” he added. “It is certainly appreciated by all of the lads that people travel the distances they do to watch us.

“It’s lovely to see them come up to the players and say ‘well done’ and we can’t thank them enough.

“It’s just nice to be able to repay them for travelling that far with a strong performance and a win.”

Main image: James Kettleborough was delighted to see his Staffordshire side complete a two-day victory over Norfolk. Picture: Alfie Shenton