James Kettleborough ready to usher in red-ball programme

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough.

James Kettleborough hasn’t had to do too much research this week as Staffordshire prepare to open their NCCA Championship campaign.

The three-day format is eagerly-anticipated by players across the country. And none more so than Staffs captain Kettleborough.

He will lock horns with his old county Bedfordshire, who make the trip to Checkley on Sunday as the Division One East red-ball programme begins.

Kettleborough is well versed in all things Bedfordshire, having spent 13 years with them before making the switch to Staffordshire ahead of the 2023 season.

He’s firmly in the Staffs camp now, of course, but admits there will be the chance to catch up with some old friends before getting down to the serious business of securing points.

‘Trip down memory lane’

And there might even be some wedding chat along the way, too.

With regular captain George Thurstance unavailable, Bedfordshire will be led by George Darlow, who played a significant role in a memorable day for Kettleborough.

Darlow was one of the ushers when the Staffs leader married wife Jenny 18 months’ ago.

So as well as the usual formalities at the toss, there might be a moment or two of reminiscing about that particular big day in the Cheshire countryside.

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In another link, they both played their club cricket for Southill Park in Bedfordshire.

“I’m obviously fully committed to Staffordshire. But Bedfordshire is a county that will always have a place in my heart,” said Kettleborough.

“I played for them for many years. I’ve always been proud to follow in my dad’s footsteps in doing so. It’s going to be a nice few days seeing some familiar faces.

“When the fixtures came out there was a bit of apprehension and me and Bretty (Tom Brett, another former Beds player) were probably nervous about it.

“Now there’s just excitement and it’s going to be nice to catch up with people.

“There’s a lot of people in their side that I know well. I’m sure there will be the odd comment from them on the pitch.

“But it will all be done in a light-hearted manner.”

‘Great break’

The opening of the Championship campaign gives Staffs the chance to recover from what has been a disappointing few weeks.

They suffered three successive defeats in the 50-over competition as they failed to qualify from their Knockout Trophy group.

Staffs’ players had time off last weekend, which Kettleborough believes will be beneficial as they attempt to make a winning start to the three-day format.

“It’s nice to park the one-day stuff and have a fresh start,” said Kettleborough, who led Staffs to the runners-up spot in the division last summer.

“After a disappointing 50-over season we can turn up on Sunday morning with a group that is feeling refreshed and ready to go.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough.
Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough. Picture: Pete Stonier

“As a group we want to take confidence from what we did last year in the three-dayers.

“We want to be in a position where we can challenge for the divisional title again. I don’t see any reason why we can’t.

“But Bedfordshire will be coming here with the same ambition as us, which is to win the game and get off to a winning start.

“We just have to make sure that we have the same mindset.”

‘Jump in levels’

Kettleborough says there is a step up in standard between the two Eastern divisions.

He won promotion from Division Two East with Bedfordshire in 2021. But they were relegated the following summer.

It was then that Kettleborough opted to make the move to Staffordshire… and Beds bounced back at the first attempt in 2023.

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“The manner in which Bedfordshire won the title last season was impressive,” he admitted.

“When it was won in 2021 we needed results to go in our favour. But in 2023 they won it with a game to spare.

“They are a side containing match-winners, but there is a step up in standard.

“Division One teams do tend to have more strength in depth. But we know they are going to provide a tough test.”

‘Team choices’

Staffordshire have been hit by some selection issues ahead of the encounter.

Several key performers are unavailable for the clash, with a couple of debutants set to be named in the final XI.

However, Kettleborough says that whichever 10 players join him on the field, he has no doubt about their ability to produce a positive result.

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“Whenever you are missing a senior player then you are going to feel it,” he conceded.

“But this is an opportunity for younger players to come into the side and take their chance.

“They will have the full backing of myself and Carri (Andy Carr, head coach). They can come in and look to put their stamp on the team.”

Main image: James Kettleborough says Staffordshire will be ready to go in the NCCA Championship campaign. Picture: Pete Stonier

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