No miracle for Staffordshire as Bucks complete deserved victory

Staffordshire County Cricket Club batsman Nils Priestley

Staffordshire saw their proud unbeaten NCCA Championship run at West Bromwich Dartmouth come to an end as Buckinghamshire secured a deserved victory.

Staffs had never been beaten in the three-day format since returning to play at Sandwell Park in 2014.

However, that sequence was brought to a predictable conclusion as Bucks put the finishing touches to a 24-point haul.

They had dominated the opening two days of the Division One East contest – and didn’t have too many concerns in sealing their second successive win of the three-day season.

That has left Bucks top of the table – in their first season at this level – and favourites to make a return to the venue later in the summer for the Championship final.

Staffordshire had some faint hope of saving the game as they arrived for the final chapter. But despite half-centuries from Nils Priestley (70) and Liam Hurt (52), they were bowled out for 232.

Bucks required 111 for victory – and despite losing AJ Woodland and Chris Marrow, they romped over the finishing line.

Opener Ewan Cox joined forces with former Worcestershire man Alexei Kervezee to complete matters.

Kervezee, in particular, pulled out some flamboyant shots to end the match. And he secured the win with a flat-batted six off seamer Dan Richardson.

If Kervezee had showed off his party pieces as the winning line came in to view, it was Bucks’ ability to nail the basics which proved to be the difference over the course of the contest.

‘Still hopeful’

Staffordshire have had bad sessions in the past which have cost them matches. But it has been rare for them to be so off the pace for the duration of a Championship clash.

Still, they arrived on the final morning dreaming of producing an escape act, resuming on 70-3. However, they still needed 52 more runs to make Bucks bat again.

There was an early blow to the hosts’ hopes in the eighth over of the day. Just three runs had been added, before Tom Moulton departed for 34.

The Checkley batsman had battled gamely on the second evening. But he became left-arm spinner Conner Haddow’s first victim of the day when he edged to Kervezee at slip.

And just five runs later, nightwatchman Anis Raza exited proceedings. He feathered a Haddow delivery through to keeper Ross Richardson.

Day One report: Staffordshire need something special after Bucks take control

At 78-5, Staffordshire still faced the prospect of losing by an innings. But the introduction of Nils Priestley into the fray soon banished fears of that situation unfolding.

Priestley had been the star of Staffs’ run to being crowned Twenty20 Cup winners earlier in the season.

Perhaps wisely he brought a touch of that T20 form into the third day as he felt that a counter-attack was the best course of action.

With Callum Hawkins providing stern resistance at the other end, Priestley was in no mood to let the Bucks attack dictate terms to him.

The pair put on 70 in quick time, but Hawkins was eventually undone. He nicked Haddow to Kervezee lurking at slip to fall for 15.

‘Boundary frenzy’

That didn’t stop Priestley from continuing his assault, which saw him reach his half-century off just 35 balls.

However, after reaching 70, which included nine fours and three sixes, he was dismissed from the 49th delivery he faced.

He took on a short ball from Bucks skipper Tom Hampton, which hurried on to him a touch, and he was expertly caught in the deep by Tom Weymes.

Staffordshire were 164-7 at that juncture, but were the architects of their own downfall for the eighth wicket of the innings.

Thirteen runs further on, Dan Richardson was slow to react to a call from Hurt for a single and was run out by a combination of Marrow and keeper Ross Richardson.

Staffordshire's Liam Hurt made 52 in the defeat by Buckinghamshire.
Staffordshire’s Liam Hurt made 52 in the defeat by Buckinghamshire.

Scott Winnington exited relatively swiftly to provide Haddow with his fifth victim – and leave Staffs on 189-9.

Hurt then opened his shoulders to entertaining effect. He struck some mighty sixes in putting on 43 for the last wicket with Tom Brett.

He reached his 50, but just two runs later he looked for another boundary clearer, but found Marrow at long-off, who held his nerve to take a steepler.

That was another wicket for Haddow, who finished with superb figures of 6-97 – and now has 19 wickets in the two Championship matches to date.

‘Calm approach’

Bucks’ target looked like it was going to be a relatively straightforward affair. But stranger things have happened in cricket.

Not on this occasion, though, as Buckinghamshire, despite a couple of losses, managed to ease home.

Spinner Brett, handed the new ball by skipper James Kettleborough, made an early breakthrough. He had AJ Woodland was pouched in the deep by Priestley for just a single.

And 10-1 became 38-2 when Brett struck again with a fine delivery which bowled Marrow.

Day Two report: Bucks fizz leaves Staffordshire facing fight for survival

Staffordshire might well have been thinking that another quick double could keep them in with a sniff.

But Cox and Kervezee snuffed out any home aspirations… and as the target ticked down, went into party mode.

Cox played neatly for his unbeaten 35, but it was Kervezee who put the icing on the cake from a Bucks point of view. He made a quickfire 59 not out off just 32 balls. He plundered five fours and four sixes in his knock to ensure that the victory was banked at the earliest opportunity.

‘Flying finish’

Kervezee finished with a flourish. He peppered the boundary to win the match in style, by which time Staffs had long raised the white flag.

It was a hugely disappointing performance from Staffordshire after kicking off their three-day season with a first win in Suffolk for 19 years.

They would have been confident of backing that up given that West Brom has also been a happy hunting ground.

However, unbeaten records have to go at some time – and it was Bucks who had the honour of being the first side to win at the venue since Staffordshire’s return to Championship action there.

And it was fully deserved. Bucks, under the guidance of head coach Jason Harrison and assistant Simon Stanway, are a well-drilled unit who are riding the crest of a wave.

They have now won eight out of the last 10 three-day matches… and displayed that type of confidence in their performance.

There was nothing flashy, but just a determination from each player to carry out their individual roles. They also appreciated how three-day cricket should be played.

Bucks might have provided Staffs with a few lessons in how to go about winning Championship matches.

Staffs, who are now 18 points behind Bucks, have to win their last two games – away at Norfolk and at home to Lincolnshire to stand any chance of winning the division.

But that would still require a slip up from Buckinghamshire. And given the form they’re in, it’s tough to see that happening.

Main picture: Nils Priestley top-scored for Staffordshire with 70 in their defeat by Bucks. Images: Alfie Shenton