Staffordshire knocked out of Trophy as Bucks secure win

Staffordshire County Cricket Club batsman Michael Hill

Staffordshire’s interest in the NCCA Knockout Trophy will go no further than the group stage following a nine-wicket defeat by Buckinghamshire.

Staffs needed to win the Group Four contest to stand any chance of progressing to the quarter-finals, but they were beaten in a rain-affected encounter at Moddershall & Oulton.

Heavy rain descended on Barnfields with Buckinghamshire well ahead of the rate on 105-1 from 22 overs as they pursued Staffs’ 259-9. And with Dorset winning against Wales, Staffordshire’s hopes of qualifying were mathmaticallly ended.

After winning the NCCA Twenty20 Cup, Staffs failed to hit the levels they are capable of in the 50-over format, despite opening up with a victory over Wales at Port Talbot.

They were then defeated by Wiltshire before seeing their clash against Dorset washed out last weekend.

‘Missed chance’

Putting big scores on the board has been an issue for Staffs in this competition. And even though they managed to stick a competitive score on the board against Bucks, they should have been defending a far bigger total.

Half-centuries from skipper James Kettleborough (61) and Callum Hawkins (53) had propelled Staffs to 152-2 at the drinks break – and with reasonable thoughts turning to a score well in excess of 300.

However, Buckinghamshire, who made the journey north having lost their first two encounters, put the squeeze on. Leg-spinner Stephen Croft grabbed 5-44 to turn the tables, despite Michael Hill compiling a cultured 71.

Bucks then negotiated matters well in their chase to keep themselves ahead of the curve.

Opener AJ Woodland compiled an unbeaten 55 as Buckinghamshire were clear of their 80-run target when the umpires abandoned play.

Staffs skipper Kettleborough had been intent on the county showing their true colours after that defeat by Wiltshire at Smethwick dented their qualification prospects.

‘Early promise’

And the early signs were promising after Kettleborough won the toss and elected to bat.

Staffs were quick out of the blocks as Hawkins and Nils Priestley looked to take advantage of the power play.

Hawkins, in particular, looked in good touch as he caressed a couple of gorgeous leg-side sixes on his home ground to get up and running.

Priestley, the county’s batting hero in the T20 Cup success, couldn’t quite get into his stride. He fell in the fifth over with the score on 32 when he was caught by Woodland off seamer Ed Bragg for 12.

That merely brought Kettleborough to the crease. He didn’t take long to settle himself in against a Buckinghamshire attack which proved to be wayward.

He took full advantage of the visitors’ bowlers missing their lines and lengths to pepper the boundary with monotonous regularity.

The Staffs skipper raced to his half-century in just 40 balls, striking nine fours. But Hawkins wasn’t far behind in reaching the landmark.

He needed just six more deliveries to post his second Staffs 50, a knock containing four fours and three sixes.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's James Kettleborough, left, and Callum Hawkins both hit half-centuries against Bucks.
Staffordshire County Cricket Club’s James Kettleborough, left, and Callum Hawkins both hit half-centuries against Bucks.

However, while seam didn’t do the trick for Buckinghamshire, the introduction of spin reaped rewards. The brakes were applied to Staffordshire’s innings.

Hawkins, having reached 53, was the second wicket to fall, when he was caught behind by Ross Richardson off debutant left-arm spinner Teddy Fleming.

Still, that left Staffs in a handy position on 129-2 in the 18th over – and Kettleborough and Hill looked to forge another partnership.

‘Aiming high’

Staffordshire took drinks on 152-2, with the real prospect of a score well beyond 300 in their sights at that juncture.

But while Staffs had taken the honours in the first half of their innings, it was Bucks who dragged themselves back into contention in the final 25 as their spinners bowled impressively.

None more so than leg-spinner Croft, who secured a big breakthrough on the resumption. He tempted Kettleborough to chip the ball back to him to leave the home side on 157-3.

Matthew Morris was quickly bowled by Croft, but Hill and Callum Leese constructed a decent stand. That ensured that not all of Staffordshire’s fine work went to waste.

Runs weren’t as free-flowing for Staffs as the wicket seemed to be highly conducive to pace off the ball.

But from 160-4, the duo managed to advance the score to 221 before Leese (22) was stumped off Croft.

Shortly after, Hill, having hit five fours and three sixes, saw his timbers disturbed by Croft. He then struck next ball to trap Liam Hurt lbw to complete his five-for.

That meant Staffordshire had slipped to 238-7, but Dan Richardson made 13 not out to steer Staffs to their total.

‘Steady start’

The early stages of Bucks’ reply followed a similar vein to their rivals. But not quite to the extent in terms of runs.

Openers Ewan Cox and Woodland found seam much to their liking as they compiled a stand of 53.

Their alliance was ended in the 11th over. Rory Haydon induced Cox to find the safe hands of Kettleborough to depart for 21.

That proved to be Staffs’ only success. Woodland and Chris Marrow (24no) stuck another 52 on to the score before the rain arrived.

After being crowned Twenty20 Cup champions, Staffordshire’s next block of white-ball fixtures has been a disappointment. Although not entirely of their own making.

Kettleborough conceded in the pre-match build up that his side had benefited from the weather in the T20s and it may go against them in this format. He was right.

He’ll be keeping his fingers crossed that the sun is shining when Staffs commence their Championship campaign next month.

Main image: Michael Hill picks up more runs on his way to 71 for Staffordshire against Bucks. Picture: Alfie Shenton