We are the champions!

Staffordshire County Cricket Club were crowned NCCA Twenty20 Cup champions in 2023.

Staffordshire were crowned NCCA Twenty20 Cup champions after a tense four-run victory over Cornwall.

Cornwall needed 11 off the final over at Tring Park to overhaul Staffs’ 119 all out. But Liam Hurt kept his cool to earn the county the first piece of NCCA silverware of the summer.

The final may have been an attritional affair, but Staffordshire had powered their way into the afternoon showpiece thanks to a slice of history.

Nils Priestley compiled a superb 147 not out as Staffs piled up 252-3 on their way to beating Berkshire by 68 runs.

In the process Priestley became the first Staffordshire player to ever score a T20 hundred.

He had come so close to achieving the feat in the group game win at Northumberland, making 97. And he picked the perfect time to put his name in the record books.

Staffordshire’s morning win may have upset the odds to a degree as they knocked out a Berkshire side who have enjoyed a trophy-laden few seasons.

It was a remarkable start for Staffs, making their finals day bow, and another surprise was on the cards in the second semi-final.

Cornwall, also debutants, knocked out previous winners Hertfordshire in pretty comfortable fashion.

‘Written in the stars’

There were some who thought the final was written in the stars. Cornwall were the only minor county Staffordshire had never faced in their history.

But while runs had been free-flowing for Staffs in the morning game, it was more a case of digging deep and drawing on experience in the second.

Cornwall would have been favourites at the halfway stage of the final.

However, Staffordshire made the ideal start as dangerous openers Christian Purchase and Chris Gibson were both dismissed early on.

And they were reduced to 45-4 – on a wicket which was tougher to score on as the day progressed – but a key stand of 44 between Joe Phillips and Tryfonos looked to have swung the momentum back to Cornwall.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club were crowned NCCA Twenty20 Cup winners.
Staffordshire County Cricket Club celebrate winning the NCCA Twenty20 Cup

They were eventually parted in the 16th over. Phillips had a rush of blood and dashed down to spinner Peter Wilshaw and was stumped by Spencer Byatt for 32.

That set the alarm bells ringing in the Cornish camp – and Staffs sensed their chance to further pile on the pressure.

Priestley (4-27) caught and bowled Paul Smith and then bowled Tryfonos as Cornwall were reduced to 93-7.

Alex Bone and Ben Ellis both fell, but a six by Tommy Sturgess off the final ball of Priestley’s spell kept Cornish hopes alive.

However, Staffordshire managed to hold their nerve to win the trophy as Hurt (2), Brett and Wilshaw all claimed scalps.

‘Disappointing batting effort’

Staffs had earlier disappointed with the bat as a succession of wickets fell to an impressive Cornwall attack. That was fronted by Sturgess (3-36), while Tom Dinnis, Tryfonos and Purchase all took two wickets.

Priestley, who was dropped on eight by Gibson in the deep, went on to make a crucial 57. Hurt added 20 before he was spectacularly caught by Will MacVicar in the deep.

Priestley had lit up the first match with his slice of Staffordshire history to power his side to their mammoth total.

He raced out of the blocks, alongside opening partner Malik as they took full advantage of the powerplay. They brought up Staffordshire’s hundred in 6.2 overs.

Sam Atkinson celebrates taking a wicket in the NCCA Twenty20 Cup semi-final win against Berkshire.
Sam Atkinson celebrates taking a wicket in the NCCA Twenty20 Cup semi-final win against Berkshire.

Priestley went on a particularly savage spree, bringing up his half-century from a mere 19 deliveries.

Berkshire looked shell-shocked by Staffordshire’s front-foot approach to the encounter.

Priestley and Malik’s partnership was worth 124. The latter was then caught behind for 40 by keeper Dan Lincoln off the bowling of brother Josh.

‘Building on foundations’

The platform had been laid for Staffordshire to go on to post a huge score as Kettleborough ventured to the crease with more than 11 overs to spare.

He hit one four and a couple of sixes in making 33 as he added 99 for the second wicket with Priestley.

Kettleborough fell in the closing stages, but Priestley was not to be denied a standing ovation as he walked off.

After bringing up his ton from 41 balls, he continued to accelerate. That was an achievement in itself considering the pace he was scoring at.

Priestley’s memorable innings featured 12 fours and 10 sixes as he put Berkshire to the sword.

Staffordshire's Nils Priestley on his way to a century against Berkshire.
Staffordshire’s Nils Priestley on his way to a century against Berkshire.

However, if there is one county who never know when they are beaten, it’s Berkshire.

They possessed the firepower to give Staffordshire a run for their money. And they were given an excellent start by skipper Dan Lincoln and Johnny Connell.

They compiled a stand of 85 in 7.4 overs before they were parted. Sam Atkinson took a superb diving catch at long off – from a Malik delivery – to account for Connell (36).

It was the wicket of Dan Lincoln which held the key at this stage. And it was the same Staffordshire double act who did the business once again as the Berkshire skipper departed for 55.

That was the second of two excellent catches by Atkinson. Although arguably the family moment of the day was when dad Steve held on to a catch in the crowd, much to wife Sue’s delight.

Berkshire, at this juncture, found themselves 102-2 with 10 overs to play. They needed something pretty incredible to rescue the situation following their captain’s departure.

‘Hopes disappear’

Several batsmen managed to get into double figures. But the scoring rate became too much and their slim hopes of pulling off a remarkable chase evaporated.

They did manage to finish on 184-9, but Staffordshire always had them at arm’s length. Malik, Tom Brett and Scott Winnington all picked up a couple of wickets.

There was then a long wait for Staffordshire to take to the stage once again for the final.

However, despite a below-par batting performance, it turned out to be a worthwhile wait.

The county are just a few months into the new regime of head coach Andy Carr and James Kettleborough – but what a start they’ve made.

Hugs, kisses and emotions were in full flow at the end – and that was just among the players.

And a healthy Staffordshire contingent drove back home wondering what else will be in store for them after such an impressive start.

Main image: Staffordshire captain James Kettleborough lifts the NCCA Twenty20 Cup. All pictures: Alfie Shenton