Staffordshire’s heroic effort falls short as Lincs cling on for draw

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's Liam Hurt.

Staffordshire gave it everything. They really did. But ultimately their NCCA Division One East title hopes have been realistically dashed for another year after winding up their campaign.

Yes, they moved to the top of the table, but only lead Bucks by four points ahead of their final game against Suffolk this coming weekend.

Buckinghamshire require just five points to win the division – easily achievable with a draw – but they would have been nervously keeping tabs on Staffordshire’s final-day progress against Lincolnshire at Checkley.

After the second day was called off without any play possible because of the weather, Staffs had no real right to put themselves in a position where a much-needed victory was possible.

But they threw everything into the last day to try to push for the win which would have increased the title tension heading into the final weekend of Championship action.

They resumed on 54-0 – in reply to Lincs’ 281 all out – and managed to find their way to 325-7 before declaring in the afternoon session.

That gave Staffs a lead of 44, knowing that it needed an incredible bowling performance to skittle Lincolnshire cheaply and then knock off any target they were set.

They reduced Lincs to 88-8 at one point, but Joe Pocklington produced a superb rearguard action to make 34 not out from 115 balls to deny Staffs.

And Lincs had found their way to 117-8 from 50 overs in the last hour when the handshakes took place as Staffordshire admitted that time had beaten them.

‘Bowing out’

It was not the way Peter Wilshaw would have ideally liked to have finished after announcing his retirement from the NCCA circuit following an illustrious career which started in 2004.

To put into context his longevity, Wilshaw made his Staffs bow a year before current team-mate Sam Atkinson was even born.

But while Wilshaw would have loved to have signed off with a victory, he was part of a Staffordshire performance which typified everything good about the county.

Staffs knew they needed to play positive cricket throughout the day – and it was a task they took on with gusto as openers James Kettleborough and Matthew Morris displayed their attacking intent from the word go.

They advanced the score to 92 before Morris (33) fenced at a delivery from paceman Mark Footitt and was snapped up by Drew Sylvester at second slip.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's Zen Malik.
Staffordshire County Cricket Club’s Zen Malik on his way to a half-century against Lincs. Picture: Alfie Shenton

The stage was set, though, for Kettleborough and Zen Malik to run through their attacking repertoire as Staffordshire remained on the front foot.

The odd gamble had to be taken at times to keep the scoreboard flowing – and it was a challenge which the Staffs pair relished.

Kettleborough fell with the score on 150, edging Pocklington behind to keeper Tom Keast to fall for 74. He hit 10 fours.

‘Hill shows his class’

But that merely introduced Michael Hill into proceedings – and he wasn’t going to miss out on the chance to fill his boots at one of his favourite batting venues.

Malik departed for 74 to a caught and bowled by Josh Joy, while Nils Priestley had a brief foray to the middle before he was heading back.

But either side of lunch, Hill carved apart the Lincs attack, plundering four fours and nine sixes in a 70-ball 95 prior to his dismissal.

The retiring Wilshaw added a exquisite cameo of 28, before Kettleborough called in his troops once the fourth batting point had been banked.

‘Early inroads’

Staffs would have fancied three or four wickets before Lincolnshire managed to wipe out their deficit in the afternoon.

And they managed to take three as new-ball duo Sam Atkinson and Liam Hurt provided the ideal start.

Atkinson tempted Sylvester to edge to Priestley in the gully, before Hurt bowled Qundeel Haider and trapped Ben Wright lbw.

That left Lincolnshire 36-3 – but it was Rory Haydon who really opened the door just before tea when he skittled Tom Keast – who made a well-crafted 93 in the first innings – with a beauty.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's Michael Hill.
Staffordshire County Cricket Club’s Michael Hill made 95 on the final day. Picture: Alfie Shenton

Lincs took tea on 59-4 and hopes were high that Staffs could pull off a second remarkable win in a week.

They had defeated Norfolk in just two day of play seven days ago… and the optimism was raised further in the evening session.

In front of a growing – and possibly expectant crowd – Haydon produced another pearler to bowl Jordan Cook, while Savraj Nijjar was trapped lbw by left-arm spinner Tom Brett.

Lincs were rocking on 61-6 at this point – and with a slender lead of just 27 as the final hour ticked into view.

It seemed that everything was aligned for Staffordshire to wrap up the Lincs innings and then put their foot down to quickly knock off the runs.

‘Joe proves resolute’

But Pocklington hadn’t read that particular script as he played stubbornly and survived two blows to the helmet from Hurt.

Hurt (4-47), charging in like a raging bull, gave everything he had during one final burst, which saw him bowl Joy and Josh Knapton.

However, from 88-8, Footitt (14no) emerged to help Pocklington to secure safety for Lincs.

Day One report: Brilliant Brett steals the show on opening day against Lincs

It was perhaps fitting that it was Wilshaw who delivered the final over of the match before hands were shaken.

Wilshaw was then given a guard of honour by his team-mates as he led Staffordshire off the pitch in his last appearance.

The ending the majority of the crowd wanted didn’t materialise, but it was still a breathless day of cricket.

Staffordshire gave their all to clinch the win, but just couldn’t get over the line.

Still, it was a day to remember to everyone who was there.

Image: Liam Hurt took four wickets in Lincolnshire’s second innings, but Staffs had to settle for a draw. Picture: Alfie Shenton