James Kettleborough: We can’t rest on our laurels

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough

James Kettleborough says the hard work has only just started for Staffordshire after opening up their NCCA Championship season with victory at Suffolk.

Kettleborough led Staffs to a 51-run win at Bury St Edmunds last week on his three-day bow for the county.

And the magnitude of the achievement was emphasised by the fact it was the first time that Staffordshire had won in Suffolk for 19 years.

That part of East Anglia hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for the county in recent seasons. But Staffs pocketed the maximum 24 points on offer in the Division One East clash.

The triumph sets up the three-day campaign perfectly, with their next assignment against Buckinghamshire at West Bromwich Dartmouth starting on Sunday.

That is followed by a trip to Norfolk before a home game against Lincolnshire wraps up the divisional commitments.

Skipper Kettleborough allowed himself a small window to celebrate a long-overdue Staffs win in Suffolk, but has quickly turned his attention to backing up the success against Bucks, who defeated Norfolk in their first game since winning promotion from Division Two East.

‘A proper win’

“It was a proper three-day win, finishing at 5pm on a Tuesday,” said Kettleborough.

“The players gave everything and, especially with the recent history playing in Suffolk, I was proud of everyone in the group.

“It’s a really good start, the perfect start, and it was a strong performance moving forward.

“But we have to be careful. We’re confident, but there’s a fine line between that and being complacent, which we can’t afford to be.

“If we want to get near earning the same amount of points against Bucks then we’re going to have to nail our skills.”

‘Leading the way’

Kettleborough led from the front with a sparkling 141 in Staffordshire’s first innings, before hitting 92 second time around.

His second innings was crucial as Staffs collapsed at one point. But they still managed to set Suffolk 294 for victory on the final day.

“I don’t think we need to make too much of an issue about the third innings of the game,” added Kettleborough.

“Afterwards we discussed things and said that over three days you are going to make mistakes at some point.

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“It’s about minimising those mistakes and at times rebuilding. We were able to find a couple of partnerships and the big thing was to keep things simple.

“From a personal perspective I was relieved and proud to put in a performance on my three-day debut for Staffordshire.

“It was satisfying to be able to make a match-winning contribution.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club spinner Tom Brett
Tom Brett took five wickets in Suffolk’s second innings to help Staffordshire to win their NCCA Championship clash. Picture: Alfie Shenton

“I was disappointed and frustrated to get out for 92 second time around. Scoring back-to-back hundreds isn’t something you think about because you need a lot of things to go your way.

“But to get so close to doing it, that stayed with me for a day or two after the game.

“That’s probably a bit selfish of me, although you then realise you’ve played your part in a victory.”

‘Holding their nerve’

Staffordshire looked to be on course for a comfortable success on the third day after reducing Suffolk to 98-6.

However, George Rhodes’ 110 and 40 from the experienced Andy Northcote threatened to turn the tables and continue Staffordshire’s Suffolk hoodoo.

But Staffs managed to hold their nerve with spinners Tom Brett and Anis Raza taking 13 wickets between them in the match.

Staffordshire’s fourth-innings bowling display was all the more laudable with seamers Liam Hurt and Rory Haydon sidelined.

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Hurt was laid low by a knee injury, while Haydon managed just five overs in Suffolk’s second innings due to an ankle problem.

“You do think ‘how’s your luck’ when two of the seamers are injured,” explained Kettleborough.

“In the end, though, we got the job done. Sam Atkinson, Bretty and Anis were outstanding and they all put in some big shifts for us.

“Sam is only 18 but led the seam-bowling attack well and then the two spinners showed their class.”

‘Tense times’

Staffordshire did eventually return home with the points. But while Rhodes and Northcote were compiling their seventh-wicket stand of 114, the game was still in the balance.

Kettleborough admits that as the required runs ticked down, there was the odd nervous moment.

“You’ve got the quality of George, who is not long out of the first-class game, and he was going brilliantly,” said the Staffs captain.

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“Andy Northcote is a gritty cricketer who has played a lot and knows what he is doing.

“When the runs they needed got down to double figures of course there is that element of concern.

“However, we knew that if we broke their partnership we could go through them.

“For a short period of time there was some concern, but we managed to crack their stand and go on to win the game.”

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

Picture: James Kettleborough wants Staffordshire to keep their standards high when they face Buckinghamshire. Image: Alfie Shenton