‘Our focus is on playing our best cricket’

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough.

James Kettleborough cuts a relaxed figure as he looks ahead to Staffordshire’s debut appearance at the National Counties Cricket Association Twenty20 Cup finals day.

Kettleborough, who plays his club cricket for NSSCL Premier Division Checkley, switched county allegiances over the winter as he ended his 13-year spell with Bedfordshire.

He was immediately installed as Staffs’ captain across all formats, working alongside new head coach Andy Carr.

Kettleborough is a calm, composed figure on the battlefield when he marshals his troops. That’s a trait which director of cricket Dave Cartledge says former skipper Kadeer Ali had in abundance.

But delving deeper, the 30-year-old’s level-headed approach gives way to a steely determination to instantly pick up a piece of silverware.

Staffordshire face Berkshire in Sunday’s opening semi-final at Tring Park (10am) before Cornwall and Hertfordshire take to the stage.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge. We want to win, but it’s going to be a great day whatever happens with it being Staffordshire’s first time there,” said Kettleborough.

“This is my first minor counties final, so it will be happy days if we can manage to win it.

“It’s an advantage to play in the first match because that gives us the chance to rest and recover if we do win.

“But we realise that we don’t win any prizes for beating Berkshire. That is just half the challenge.”

‘Upward curve’

Staffordshire have generally struggled in Twenty20 cricket since it was added to the NCCA calendar.

There was improvement in 2022 when they produced their best group performance, despite not qualifying for finals day.

However, the introduction of Kettleborough and Carr into the Staffordshire set-up has helped the county to take that next step.

Staffordshire’s Group One campaign started with a wash-out against Cumbria. They lost lost their first competitive game against Northumberland.

They bounced back to win the second clash, and in between the weather which has hampered all sides, they have chalked up wins against Shropshire and Cheshire.

That led to them topping the section to secure their spot at Tring Park this weekend.

“I’m not surprised we have reached finals day given the changes to the structure over the winter,” explained former Northamptonshire and Glamorgan batsman Kettleborough.

Staffordshire captain James Kettleborough and seamer Liam Hurt celebrate the NCCA Twenty20 Cup win against Cheshire.
Staffordshire captain James Kettleborough and seamer Liam Hurt celebrate the NCCA Twenty20 Cup win against Cheshire.

“I have a lot of confidence in the group, although I probably didn’t think we would have this type of success as quickly as we have.

“If you had asked me at the start of March, I would have said it would be a challenge to get to where we are.

“But the lads have gelled together. We’ve had the advantage of playing more cricket than anyone in the group and won three out of four games. We keep getting better with every match.

“One of the key aspects we’ve introduced is having a clear emphasis with the players about what their roles are.

“If they are unsure, they can come to myself or Andy and we’ll talk and give them that clarity.

“That’s so important and you get better performances from players if they are clear in their own minds about what is expected.”

‘Individual magic’

It has been a united effort to help Staffordshire to reach Tring Park, although there have been some impressive individual performances along the way.

Nils Priestley decimated Northumberland’s attack to set up victory in the north east, blazing 97 off just 39 balls.

And Michael Hill then kept his composure to compile an unbeaten 65 against Cheshire. That enabled Staffs to post a target which was out of their rivals’ range.

“I played with Nils four or five years ago and Andy saw him last year and was singing his praises,” explained Kettleborough.

Staffordshire batsman Michael Hill made 65 not out against Cheshire.
Staffordshire batsman Michael Hill made 65 not out against Cheshire.

“He’s just continued to develop since he came into the group. He’s taken to it like a duck to water and has taken a couple of games away from the opposition. He looks fearless.

“We’ve got that nice blend of youth and experience and we saw that against Cheshire when Hilly stood up.”

Staffordshire will need a strong team performance – scattered with some individual magic – to topple a Berkshire side who are serial winners.

They have been the team to beat over recent seasons, lifting the Championship, 50-over and T20 titles to hammer home their dominance.

‘Out to cause an upset’

Kettleborough accepts that the Royal county will be favourites, but insists that Staffs can put in a strong challenge.

“We know we’re going to have to put in our best performance to beat Berkshire,” said Kettleborough. “They have that well-earned reputation of being the best team in the country.

“But if we play as well as we can, we will give them a run for their money. We’re going to have some fun.

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“We are probably underdogs based on the fact it’s our first time there. Berkshire are expected to win it, but with that comes pressure.

“We know on our day we can beat anyone, so if we can pull off an upset, all the better.”

Kettleborough says that a successful Sunday at Tring Park can provide an extra boost to the county camp as they turn their attention to the challenges of 50-over cricket and, later in the summer, the red-ball Championship campaign.

‘Future promise’

But regardless of the outcome, the Staffs skipper says the future signs are looking promising.

“It would be brilliant to get success so quickly with the group,” he added. “We’ve already come a long way and I’m really pleased with the progress we’ve made.

“We’re heading in the right direction and if we can come away with a trophy from our first attempt, that would be fantastic.

“We want to enjoy the day. Yes, we want to win, but it will be a great experience for the group either way. It’s an occasion to look forward to – the opportunity to challenge for silverware.

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“I’ve kept an eye on Berkshire over the years and what they have in their squad. But our main focus is on us turning up and playing our best cricket on the day.

“This sets up our summer. If we come away with the trophy, brilliant. If we don’t, we’ve managed to reach finals day. We can take that momentum into the 50-over programme and then the Championship matches.”

Tickets for finals day are price at £9.50 if purchased in advance or £12.50 on the day. Children under-16 are admitted for free.

Gates will open at 9am and there is free onsite parking. Refreshments will be available throughout the day.

Tickets can be purchased here.

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