Skipper Kettleborough targeting strong Staffordshire start in NCCA Twenty20 Cup

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough.

James Kettleborough is aiming to achieve something no other Staffordshire captain has… but realises plenty of hard work lies ahead to realise that ambition.

Staffs have never qualified for finals day of the Twenty20 Cup, but they commence this summer’s campaign in the National Counties Cricket Association’s short format this weekend with plenty of optimism.

Their Group One opener sees them entertain Cumbria at Moddershall & Oulton on Sunday (11am & 2.30pm) with Kettleborough in confident mood.

The Checkley batsman switched allegiances from Bedfordshire over the winter and has been shaping a fresh chapter in the county’s history alongside new head coach Andy Carr.

The long-term aim is to reach finals day of the T20s, but Kettleborough is aware that a quick start is essential to help them on their way.

“We are really keen to hit the ground running and make a positive start,” said Kettleborough, “But that is what everyone’s ambition is as well.

“We know Cumbria are a very good white-ball side because they’ve reached the 50-over final for the past two years. It’s certainly not going to be easy.

“The main focus will be on winning that first game and hopefully then making it two out of two in the afternoon.

“Ahead of the season we want to be challenging for silverware on all three fronts. The Twenty20’s are up first and we want to push forward.

“We need to start strongly on Sunday, but with the quality and talent in the squad, we should be aiming to compete for a place at finals day.”

‘A largely positive day’

Kettleborough and Carr have been overseeing Staffordshire’s winter programme in preparation for the 2023 season.

And the new skipper had the chance to step out on to the field with his players for the first time last Sunday in two T20 friendlies against the North Staffs and South Cheshire League.

Staffs performed superbly in the first game to win easily, but they then suffered a batting malfunction in the afternoon to lose comfortably as they were bowled out for just 85, chasing 139 for victory.

“Last Sunday was a really good day. The guys, for three-quarters of the day, were brilliant,” explained Kettleborough.

James Kettleborough was largely pleased with Staffordshire's efforts against the NSSCL.
James Kettleborough was largely pleased with Staffordshire’s efforts against the NSSCL. Picture: Alfie Shenton

“We learned lots from it – batting first in the opening game and how we bowled in both matches. We just got the run chase horribly wrong in the second game.

“The wicket was tricky, but that doesn’t excuse the way we batted. We spoke afterwards and it needed one of us to bat through to set us up for the final three or four overs.

“If we had that run chase again I think we would take it on differently and not make the same mistakes.

“In T20s, though, the toughest part of the second game is if you’ve won in the morning. You have the high of winning and then have a short period to reflect and go again.

“It’s about having the same energy in the second match as you do in the first – and we’ve got a couple of ideas to try to achieve that.”

‘Tough decisions to make’

Staffordshire have named a 13-man squad for this weekend’s double header.

There will be first appearances of the season for seamer Liam Hurt and all-rounders Liam Banks and Nils Priestley.

Kettleborough says that with the ability in the party, it’s a tough task to formulate a batting gameplan.

“It’s very difficult to pick the batting order for Sunday,” added Kettleborough. “But it’s a good headache to have.

“We’re very versatile and it’s reassuring to know that whichever way we go, we can perform. There’s no single right answer.

“The bowling options are also impressive and that’s good to have in T20s because the game can change very quickly.”

Kettleborough, aged 30, says he’s relishing the opportunity to lead out Staffordshire in a competitive fixture.

“It will be a mixture of excitement and nerves,” he said. “Sunday was a friendly but it was still my first time pulling on the shirt and captaining the side.

“There was a big crowd and it was very exciting and I was keen to make an impression.

“That will be the same this weekend against Cumbria. I can’t wait to take to the field with a great group of players.”

Interview by The Sentinel

Main image: Staffordshire captain James Kettleborough in action in last weekend’s friendlies against the North Staffs and South Cheshire League. Picture: Alfie Shenton