Super Staffordshire power their way to NCCA T20 Cup finals day

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's Liam Hurt

Staffordshire’s bid to defend their NCCA Twenty20 Cup title gathered pace as they booked their place at finals day.

Staffs produced two clinical performances to beat Hertfordshire and host county Norfolk at their Manor Park headquarters to progress from the Super 12s stage.

It was certainly a case of Staffordshire making the most of the lifeline afforded to them in the competition.

After the initial group stage, Staffs had been eliminated after seeing four of the six scheduled matches fall victim to the weather.

However, Northumberland were removed from the competition for breaking player regulation rules, which saw Staffordshire reinstated.

And they produced two performances which matched the glorious weather on the outskirts of Norwich to book their place at finals day.

The reigning champions had watched on as Norfolk beat Hertfordshire in the day’s opening contest.

It was then Staffs’ turn to flex their muscles as they routinely dismantled Hertfordshire in their first clash.

That set up a winner-takes-all contest with Norfolk – but that also proved to be a mis-match.

‘Quick out of the blocks’

Staffordshire were invited to bat in their match against Hertfordshire to kick off their proceedings.

The start head coach Andy Carr would have craved came to fruition as openers Nils Priestley and Zen Malik took full advantage of the powerplay.

The pair had put on a century stand in the semi-final against Berkshire last season.

And they were up to their old tricks against as they produced a 121-run alliance in 11 overs to give Staffs the platform to progress.

There were even thoughts about heading towards another 200-plus score. But Hertfordshire, to their credit, fought back in the second half of the innings.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club all-rounder Nils Priestley
Staffordshire County Cricket Club all-rounder Nils Priestley blasted a fantastic half-century against Hertfordshire. Picture: Pete Stonier

Priestley was the first to fall when he was bowled by Ben Waring for a 35-ball 66. His innings included nine fours and two sixes.

Mailk looked set to join his opening partner in the half-century enclosure. However, just a run adrift he departed having struck four boundaries and three sumptuous sixes.

Skipper James Kettleborough and Michael Hill exited for 19 and three respectively, but there were lusty blows provided by Callum Hawkins and Liam Hurt late in the day.

Hawkins compiled an unbeaten 13, while Hurt bludgeoned 21 not out, which included two sixes – one of which almost threatened landing aircraft at Norwich Airport.

That left Staffordshire posting 181-5 from their 20 overs.

‘Early success’

And that was soon more than enough as Hertfordshire’s run chase fell apart inside the first two overs.

Tom McCormack was caught by Matt Morris at short third man off left-arm spinner Priestley.

It was then left to Hurt to strike twice in two balls to leave Herts struggling on 7-3.

Archie Harrison could only guide a brute of a delivery into the hands of keeper Hawkins, while James Latham was acrobatically caught by Hishaam Khan at cover point first ball.

Jack Plom (16), Callum Taylor (15) and James Southgate (13) offered some semblance of resistance. But Hertfordshire were eventually bowled out for 83.

Spinner Tom Brett picked up 3-20 for Staffs, with leggie Malik adding a couple of scalps.

‘Big clash’

That left all eyes on the final clash of the day against Norfolk.

Norfolk skipper Sam Arthurton won the toss and elected to bat. But Staffordshire’s attack had the bit between their teeth.

Hurt accounted for Northants’ Saif Zaib early on, before left-arm paceman Khan delivered some telling blows to the East Anglians’ batting quest.

He had dangerman Arthurton caught by Kettleborough for 19, before he dismissed Alfie Cooper for two.

Norfolk were rocking on 27-3 at that juncture – and Staffordshire were in no mood to relinquish their dominance.

Ben Wilcox made 13 and there was 11 apiece for Brett Stolworthy and Arthur Wilcox.

However, Staffordshire’s spinners kept a stranglehold on matters, while the fielding was of the highest order.

Malik helped himself to three wickets and there were a couple of victims for Priestley.

‘Easy pickings’

Staffordshire could take their time in the run chase, but Priestley was in no mood to hang around.

He hit his first two balls for four and six before being dismissed off the third ball he faced.

Malik and Hawkins fell cheaply in the run chase as well, but Staffordshire knew they had plenty of batting to deal with their relatively small target.

And so it proved as experienced campaigner Kettleborough and Hill managed to ease Staffs towards the winning line.

Hill exited with the scores level, but Khan completed matters to seal a six-wicket win.

Kettleborough, fittingly, was 37 not out, and will now turn his attention to taking that final step at Chester Boughton Hall on Sunday.

Main image: Liam Hurt bowled superbly to help Staffordshire to beat Hertfordshire and Norfolk. Picture: Pete Stonier