Staffordshire outclassed as Norfolk secure NCCA Knockout Trophy points

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's Callum Hawkins

Staffordshire suffered a Smethwick slump for the second successive season in the Knockout Trophy.

Last summer, Wiltshire had waltzed away from the venue with a comfortable victory after a below-par Staffs performance.

Fast forward 12 months and it was Norfolk gallivanting back to East Anglia with the points following a five-wicket win as they chased down Staffs’ sub-standard 157 all out.

In truth, the margin of victory was far easier for Norfolk than the scoreline suggested as they cruised across the line with 10 overs to spare.

It was a sweet revenge for them after they had been well beaten by Staffordshire in the Super 12s stage of the NCCA Twenty20 Cup last month.

But it was a different story at Smethwick where Norfolk made it back-to-back wins in Group Two to take a firm grip on top spot.

For Staffordshire, it was a disappointing outcome after they had kicked off their 50-over campaign with a resounding success at Suffolk.

Head coach Andy Carr had spoken about his side’s new approach to Knockout Trophy cricket after last season’s programme saw them fail to qualify from the group.

That new stance was in evidence in their first outing at Mildenhall, but it was a step back in time with their display.

In fact, the performance virtually mirrored the 2023 loss to Wiltshire, with a poor batting showing leaving them with nowhere to go in the contest.

‘Key call’

The toss played a key role, which went Norfolk’s way after skipper Sam Arthurton called correctly.

He had no hesitation in asking the home side to bat on a wicket which was soft, but dried out and became easier to bat on as the afternoon unfolded.

Winning the toss was one thing, but Arthurton still needed his bowlers to exploit the conditions under sunshine and blue skies.

And he found the ideal combination in Andy Hanby and Brett Stolworthy, who used their experience to utilise the elements.

Staffordshire openers Callum Hawkins and Zen Malik never looked truly comfortable in the formative stages. They played and missed, while a couple of times edges fell short of fielders or mis-timed shots looped over the infield.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough.
Staffordshire captain James Kettleborough fell cheaply against Norfolk. Picture: Pete Stonier

Malik almost fell to a spectacular catch at slip by Alfie Cooper, off Hanby, but his luck ran out with the score on 43.

Hanby could already have pocketed a couple of scalps prior to accounting for Malik. He edged through to keeper Charlie Hood in the ninth over.

That was the breakthrough Norfolk craved and thoroughly deserved – and they soon had Staffordshire in all sorts of trouble.

Runs had been flowing at a decent rate for the hosts, but those soon dried up as Norfolk turned the screw.

‘Flurry of wickets’

From that solid, if unspectacular, opening partnership, Staffs soon hit the rocks to tumble to 58-4.

Captain James Kettleborough (1) was the next to go when he nicked Stolworthy to Cooper in the slips.

It was then the turn of impressive debutant seamer Joe Everett to get in on the act.

The youngster, with a slightly unorthodox action, was soon making a name for himself with a quickfire double.

Hawkins, having made 32, was pinned lbw by Everett before Nils Priestley fenced at a delivery to provide keeper Hood with a routine snaffle behind the timbers.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club all-rounder Reeve Evitts
Reeve Evitts battled his way to 30 for Staffordshire. Picture: Pete Stonier

It was a case of rebuilding now for Staffs, but also with one eye on the overs given they had used up nearly 19 of their allocation.

Michael Hill and Reeve Evitts joined forces to attempt a recovery mission for the hosts.

They had to be watchful, while the shackles were kept firmly on by some excellent Norfolk fielding.

The pair had advanced the score to 92 before, in the 27th over, Hill (24) edged Everett (3-27) to Hood to depart.

‘Spin to win’

Arthurton then turned to his spin options to increase Staffordshire’s misery.

And two rapid wickets realistically put an end to Staffs’ aspirations of posting a competitive total.

Both fell with the score on 123 with Matthew Morris (13) trapped lbw by off-spinner Josh Cobb, the Worcestershire all-rounder.

Then Evitts, who played valiantly for his 30, was bowled by slow left-armer Cameron Graveling.

Hishaam Khan followed when he needlessly holed out to Ben Wilcox in the deep off Graveling, while Rory Haydon fell to Cobb.

Liam Hurt smacked a couple of sixes in a breezy 26, but his – and Staffordshire’s – innings came to an end when he picked out a tumbling Cooper at deep point off Hanby.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's Liam Hurt
Liam Hurt hit a couple of big sixes in his innings. Picture: Pete Stonier

Staffordshire needed some quick wickets in Norfolk’s run chase to stand any chance .

However, those hopes were soon dwindling as Cooper and Arthurton negated the new ball and took advantage of a pitch which had become easier to bat on.

There was the odd appeal from Staffs, but Norfolk’s opening pair were largely untroubled as they set about their work.

Kettleborough couldn’t hang on to a tough chance at slip off leg-spinner Malik. And Hill was forced to abort an attempted catch in the deep after being blinded by the sun.

‘Easy work’

Indeed, Norfolk were halfway to their target before the first wicket went down.

Arthurton was the man to go when he launched Brett straight and was expertly caught by Priestley, who flicked the ball back over the boundary rope before completing the take.

Cooper sealed a quick half-century, but he exited for 59 when he was adjudged lbw to Priestley.

Norfolk were 94-2 at that juncture, but the number of overs remaining had long since become academic.

Staffordshire kept plugging away, with Brett (3-35) adding Cobb and Freddie Fairey to his tally.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's Tom Brett
Left-arm spinner Tom Brett took three wickets for Staffordshire. Picture: Pete Stonier

Malik then picked up the wicket of Hood, but Norfolk were never in trouble.

And it was left to Ben Wilcox to help himself to an unbeaten 39 to steer the East Anglians over the line.

Staffordshire used seven bowlers in their quest to drag themselves back into the match, but it wasn’t to be.

As the sun beat down on Smethwick, it was a damp squib of a performance from Staffordshire as the players and head coach Carr sat on the outfield picking the bones out of the day.

‘Away date’

Staffs will be the first to admit they were outclassed in all departments by a Norfolk side who perfectly backed up their opening-round win against Herefordshire.

And it’s Herefordshire who are next up for Staffs next Sunday at Eastnor.

The equation is pretty simple for Staffordshire – win their two remaining matches to progress to the quarter-finals.

But another day like the one experienced at Smethwick and any hopes of progressing deep into this particular competition will have to wait for another season.

Main image: Callum Hawkins top-scored for Staffordshire with 32 in their NCCA Knockout Trophy defeat by Norfolk. Picture: Pete Stonier