Superb Raza spins Staffordshire to stunning NCCA Championship win at Norfolk

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's Anis Raza

Staffordshire reignited their NCCA Championship Division One East title hopes with a superb victory at Norfolk.

Staffs ran out 10-wicket winners at Manor Park to give their aspirations of winning the division a welcome boost.

With leaders Buckinghamshire, who had defeated Staffordshire in their previous outing, seeing their game against Lincolnshire abandoned on the final day, that opened the door to cut the gap.

And Staffordshire ensured that they reduced Bucks’ advantage from 18 points to eight. Both sides have one match left to play.

Left-arm spinner Anis Raza was the star of the show for Staffs, picking up his maiden five-wicket haul for the county, to inspire them to victory in the evening session.

It was, quite simply, a remarkable success considering the first day of the contest was called off after water seeped on to the wicket.

But Staffordshire were the more positive side in the two days of play possible. And that was never more evident than on the last afternoon.

They had carved out a 105-run first innings lead after batting in the morning session, which saw Michael Hill finish on 63 not out before Staffordshire skipper James Kettleborough declared on 247-9.

‘New leader’

Hill was then handed the captain’s armband, so to speak, as Kettleborough nursed a thumb injury sustained while batting on the second day.

However, try as he might, the inspirational Hill looked like he might have to settle for a draw on his captaincy bow before Raza’s slow left-armers reaped rewards.

The Ashcombe Park tweaker helped himself to 5-27 from an excellent 18-over spell to leave Norfolk all out for 138.

That left Staffordshire requiring 34 to win in 17 overs… and that was never going to be an issue.

Facing a first-innings deficit of that magnitude, Norfolk’s only hopes for the day were to deny Staffordshire victory.

And they made a decent enough start to their second knock, despite seeing captain Sam Arthurton dropped at gully in Liam Hurt’s first over.

It took a bit of time, but Hurt managed to account for the Norfolk skipper. He bowled him for 25 in the 15th over to leave the hosts on 44-1.

Fellow opener Ethan Metcalf and Ben Wilcox looked to be navigating Norfolk into calm waters as the tea interval approached.

‘Wicket rush’

But Staffordshire then had a rush of three wickets in the space of five overs to blow the door wide open.

In the blink of an eye, the hosts tumbled from 83-1 to 91-4 to add an extra spin to Staffordshire’s step.

Metcalf was trapped lbw by Raza for 30, before the Staffordshire spinner grabbed a couple more quick wickets.

Wilcox was caught behind by Callum Hawkins for 22, while the experienced Tom New saw his attempted sweep balloon up into the safe hands of Nils Priestley at leg slip.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club batsman Michael Hill
Michael Hill captained Staffordshire on the final day at Norfolk after James Kettleborough was injured. Picture: Alfie Shenton

Norfolk managed to reach tea on 106-4… and a slender lead of one. But Staffs knew that they wouldn’t have a better chance to trim Buckinghamshire’s advantage.

Suitably refuelled on energy bars, Staffs had the bit between their teeth in the evening session.

They not only had to winkle out the last six Norfolk wickets, but also ensure they left themselves a chaseable target.

Six runs had been added to the total on the resumption before Tom Brett struck a key blow. He had Ryan Findlay snapped up by Priestley at slip for 11.

‘Three quick scalps’

Hudson De Lucchi was providing some stubborn resistance for the home side. But his dismissal was the first of another run of three victims in close proximity.

De Lucchi was bowled by Raza for 26, before Hill played another ace card by bringing back Hurt for another blast.

That decision reaped rewards when Hurt pinned Charlie Rogers lbw for one to leave Norfolk 127-7.

And Raza completed his maiden five-for without addition to the score as Will Bowman obliged by chipping back a return catch.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club seamer Liam Hurt
Liam Hurt picked up three wickets in Norfolk’s second innings. Picture: Alfie Shenton

Norfolk then lost their ninth wicket when Callum Metcalf miscued pull off Hurt to Brett at mid-off.

Brett Stolworthy and Andy Hanby were Norfolk’s last hopes. But the latter was bowled by Brett to bring the curtain down on the hosts’ innings.

Raza grabbed the plaudits for his performance, while Hurt finished with 3-36 and Brett claimed 2-47.

It was then left to Hawkins (12no) and Matthew Morris (20no) to comfortably deal with batting business inside 10 overs.

‘Fine comeback’

The performance was the perfect response to the loss to Bucks at West Bromwich Dartmouth a fortnight ago.

Staffs had disappointed over the three days at Sandwell Park, but they bounced back in style here.

It was always going to be tough to force a positive result after losing the opening day of play.

However, they proved that with an aggressive game plan, anything is possible.

Bucks miss out on this weekend’s round of matches. But if Staffordshire can beat Lincolnshire in their final encounter, it really ramps up the title pressure.

Image: Anis Raza took five wickets as Staffordshire beat Norfolk at Manor Park. Picture: Alfie Shenton