Michael Hill targeting another slice of history in new NCCA season

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's Michael Hill.

Michael Hill has already secured his place in Staffordshire’s history books… but he’s intent on repeating the feat.

In 2022, cultured left-handed batsman Hill became the first Staffs player to score centuries in three successive innings.

He racked up twin tons in the Championship game against Lincolnshire at Cleethorpes before following it up with a sparkling 152 in the three-dayer against Suffolk at Checkley.

Kadeer Ali (twice), Ross Salmon, Phil Oliver and Keith Bell had previously scored back-to-back hundreds. But Hill set a new standard with his exploits.

However, there’s another target Hill has in mind which would also set him apart from any other county player.

The 32-year-old has won the Championship title, in 2014, and was part of the Staffordshire side crowned NCCA Twenty20 Cup champions last season.

The Knockout Trophy is the one piece of silverware to elude him so far. If he did win it, Hill would become the only Staffordshire player to have completed a clean sweep of all NCCA competitions.

There have been chances in the 50-over format, most notably when Staffs dominated the 2016 event. But they fell flat in the final against Herefordshire at Wormsley.

‘Setting the record straight’

“The Knockout Trophy didn’t go to plan last summer (Staffs failed to qualify from their group). This is the one I really want to win,” said Hill.

“The only time I got to the final we fluffed our lines. That’s a burning ambition of mine and I want to get that trophy in the cupboard.

“It’s an incentive (to be the first player to win all three competitions). T20 cricket wasn’t around in the 1990s when Staffordshire were a dominant force, but it would still be a nice feather in the cap.

“We want to make up for the disappointment of 2016. With the team we had that year, we should have got over the line.

“Accolades are nice and they’re personal milestones to look back on in future years. If I can continue breaking records and that results in Staffordshire winning games of cricket, that’s all good.”

‘Time for reflection’

Hill, who made his debut for the county in 2014, also reflected on Staffordshire’s fortunes last summer.

Staffs were, to a degree, stepping into the unknown with the appointment of new skipper James Kettleborough and head coach Andy Carr.

There was optimism about what the summer could offer. And it started in style as Staffordshire won the T20 Cup.

“We went into the winter programme knowing everything was going to change – changes in the squad and changes behind the scenes with the coaches,” added Hill.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club batsman Michael Hill
Staffordshire County Cricket Club batsman Michael Hill is eyeing up success in the NCCA Knockout Trophy. Picture: Alfie Shenton

“We didn’t know what was going to happen, but it clicked early and was change for the better,

“Carri and Ketts have brought a lot more focus on scenario stuff. It’s a really professional, more thorough and methodical approach about how we are going to play and how the individuals fit into those roles. There’s a clear message.

“The lads get a lot out of the sessions and work extremely hard. There’s a good balance between competitiveness and tactical and skill-based work.”

‘Ups and downs’

The remainder of last season proved to be something of a rollercoaster from a Staffordshire perspective.

They disappointed in the 50-over format after failing to progress from their group.

And the three-day Championship matches saw them finish in second place in Division One East.

A defeat by Buckinghamshire, who clinched top spot and went on to win the overall title, proved to be costly.

However, interspersed in the red-ball format were some top performances which resulted in fine victories at Suffolk and Norfolk before a rain-affected draw with Lincolnshire saw Staffs end four points shy of top spot.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club batsman Michael Hill.
Staffordshire County Cricket Club batsman Michael Hill won the NCCA Twenty20 Cup last season. Picture: Alfie Shenton

“We did well in the T20s and ended up winning it,” added Hill. “We spoke this winter and we didn’t have the readjustment period after winning the Twenty20 Cup to discuss plans for moving forward between formats.

“It cost us in the one-dayers, although the rain didn’t help us either. We didn’t reset between the formats.

“In the Championship we did really well apart from one bad game at West Brom where Bucks punished us.

“All in all it was a successful season, winning a trophy and being second in the Championship division, although there is still stuff to improve on.”

‘Senior service’

Following Pete Wilshaw’s retirement at the end of last season, Hill now takes on the mantle of being Staffordshire’s longest-serving player.

The Meakins man forms an experienced core of the side, alongside the likes of skipper Kettleborough, Liam Hurt and Tom Brett.

A nice balance has been achieved with younger talent progressing through to the senior ranks.

James Kettleborough determined to keep driving Staffordshire forwards

“We are in a good place to defend the T20 title, although in that format anything can happen on the day,” explained Hill.

“Success this season would be to get back to finals day and then you need a bit of luck or someone like Nils (Priestley) to have a day out. Nils was phenomenal last year in the T20s.

“We have always been strong in the Championship and it was disappointing to miss out by only four points after the beating we took at West Brom.

Michael Hill is now Staffordshire's longest-serving player.
Michael Hill is now Staffordshire’s longest-serving player. Picture: Alfie Shenton

“That was disappointing and we could have eked out those four points throughout the summer.

“That’s the message I keep hammering home is that the bonus points are your bread and butter over the course of the year.

“We’ve been there or thereabouts since we last won it in 2014 and hopefully we can get back to the final for the first time since 2019 and get over the line, which we didn’t manage to do last time.

“I believe we’re capable of doing that with the squad we have. We are another year settled and we know each other’s personalities and the dynamics in the group.”

‘In the runs’

Hill, like batsmen up and down the country, is hoping for an upturn in the weather before the season starts.

Last summer was hit by rain, which made life as a batter tricky. So much so that there was the rare sight of Hill not registering a century for the county.

“I am still in decent condition and I’m now one of the old timers and hopefully I can still help Staffs win matches,” he said.

“Last summer wasn’t the easiest of times for batters, especially when we started the red-ball stuff and there was some rain around, but that’s no excuse and I feel I’m experienced enough to adapt.

‘Really prolific teams win trophies back to back  – that’s our aim this season’

“I was pleased with how I finished. I had to play two different knocks. At Norfolk I had to dig in and help us to post a score on the final day. I got 60-odd on a spicy wicket.

“And to finish off at Checkley I had a bit of a free role on that last day. It was different to 2022 weather wise and I didn’t manage to get a 100 last year.

“But that 60-odd and 90-odd (at Checkley) were just as important in terms of the match situation.

“I was pleased with my own performances. I am self critical and always looking to improve and hopefully we can have another go this year.

“It’s important to keep the core of the squad together and have 14 or 15 players. We have a young, hungry squad and some good experience. We should be in a good place for the summer.”

Main image: Michael Hill wants to secure NCCA Knockout Trophy to complete a silverware clean sweep. Picture: Alfie Shenton

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