Zen Malik says Staffordshire must reach new levels in T20 Cup defence

Staffordshire County Cricket Club's Zen Malik.

Zen Malik insists Staffordshire will need to move to the next level if they want to keep their hands on the NCCA Twenty20 Cup.

Staffs won the competition for the first time in their history last summer after defeating Berkshire and Cornwall on finals day.

Hopes of making a winning start to their defence were thwarted by the weather last week as the double header against Cheshire at Checkley was abandoned.

They now face a busy Bank Holiday with two home matches against Northumberland at Burslem on Sunday, before twin clashes against Cumbria at Carlisle on Monday.

The top two from the five groups, plus the two best-performing third-placed sides, will qualify for the Super 12s stage.

And Malik is confident that Staffs have the tools at their disposal to have another memorable summer.

“You set out to win every game and we don’t want to be relying on other results to qualify,” said Leek all-rounder Malik.

“With the squad we’ve got and the depth we have we should be able to be successful. We’re aiming to win four out of four this weekend.

Electrical specialists CEF sponsor Staffordshire

“The opposition are going to step up because we are the defending champions. We can’t be complacent. We have to move up an extra level – and we’re capable of doping that.

“It’s a big motivation for the players to go back to back. You can see there’s that hunger throughout the squad.

“The standard of the team is really high and there’s no complacency. We certainly won’t see people stepping off it.”

‘Star turn’

Nils Priestley was the outstanding performer for Staffordshire in their T20 Cup success last season.

He became the first Staffs batsman to score a ton in the format when he plundered 147 not out in the semi-final victory over Berkshire at Tring Park.

He faced 66 balls and smashed 12 fours and 10 sixes.

Priestley then compiled a gritty half-century in the final against Cornwall as Staffs edged out the Duchy by just four runs.

Malik had the best seat in the house as Priestley scored his hundred, standing at the other end as the ball was sent to all parts of the ground.

The pair put on 124 for the first wicket in a mere 8.3 overs before Malik fell for 40.

Staffordshire County Cricket Club batsman Nils Priestley celebrates his century against Berkshire in the NCCA Twenty20 Cup.
Staffordshire County Cricket Club batsman Nils Priestley celebrates his century against Berkshire in the NCCA Twenty20 Cup.

“It was a joke stood at the other end to Nils last season. After the first couple went out of the ground I thought ‘he’s seeing it well!’,” added Malik.

“He just kept going. I virtually stopped backing up before each ball because you knew it was going to disappear. It was an unbelievable display of hitting.

“He was in the zone and that’s what he can do. He puts the opposition under pressure and as a bowler you’re scared of missing your areas because the ball will go.

“Even in the final against Cornwall he showed his quality by playing a different type of role and helping us to win.

‘Strong message’

“Nils’ performances will send a message to other teams this year. If Nils is playing freely, other people can come in and play and not worry about being the main figure.

“If you can get people like Nils coming off, that can be key. It would be nice for him to have a couple of days out again this season.

“But people have to step up and contribute. We’ve been playing together last year, so we all know all our roles and people understand what is expected of them.”

‘New recruits’

Staffordshire have added to their squad with the signings of all-rounder Reeve Evitts and seamer Hishaam Khan.

Khan offers a left-arm option to the county attack – and Malik says he’s a shrewd acquisition.

“Hishaam offers a lot with bat and ball. He came close to sign as a pro with a few counties last summer,” explained Malik.

Staffordshire name squads for Northumberland and Cumbria NCCA T20 Cup matches

“He’s really good with the ball and he strikes it cleanly with the bat as well.

“He gives us something different being left arm and is a great addition. He swings the ball up front ad he’s good in the death overs as well in white-ball cricket.”

Malik, aged 26, is like all cricketers at the moment – hoping the weather stays favourable so the season can get underway in earnest.

‘Looking forward’

The North Staffs and South Cheshire League was due to start in mid-April but has been pushed back to this weekend to allow clubs more time to get grounds ready following a prolonged period of bad weather.

“It’s been a bit anti-climatic really. You prepare all winter and set up for the start and then it gets pushed back,” he said.

“We haven’t been able to get outside and it’s a shame, so we’re looking forward to it.

“For me, I’ve been outside a couple of times playing for SACA.

“I haven’t had much of a hit, though, so I’m looking forward to that and then there’s the bowling aspect as well.”

Staffordshire matches on both days this weekend start at 11am and 2.30pm.

Entry is free and all spectators are welcome.

Main image: Zen Malik is eyeing up more success in the NCCA Twenty20 Cup. Picture: Alfie Shenton

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