After the dust had settled on our 2008 title-winning season, I was asked by Nottinghamshire to write a captain’s report on Sam Kelsall. It was a pleasure to do so, and, reading it back, it’s no surprise to me to now see him coaching at winter nets, turning out at Weston in the Talbot Cup, and generally cheerleading for the club. Top bloke about whom I couldn’t speak too highly, and yet almost did…
When I left Moddershall CC at the end of the 2005 season for what turned out to be a two-year stint in the Nottinghamshire Premier League, I was only faintly aware of a precociously talented 12-year-old racking up the runs in the junior section of the club. So, returning to the area to captain the 1st XI in 2008, I knew that a now 15-year-old Sam Kelsall, in and out of the side the previous summer, would be one of my charges and was a player that I was keen to witness at close quarters having heard a number of glowing reports.
Our first encounter was at the winter nets, where I briefly developed a mistaken first impression of him as, well, a bit downbeat. I quickly came to realize, however, that Sam’s occasionally sullen mood was always a direct result of the lack of intensity of the sessions, the absence of a challenge, invariably caused by poor attendance from the senior bowlers (not that we had many of them, but that’s another story). Time and time again over the summer it was apparent that he set very high standards – both in practice and on match days – and was quite rightly irritated when he felt that those standards weren’t being catered for or matched by others. This attitude, from our youngest team member, was not lost on me and provided much impetus toward us quickly getting our act together in terms of preparation, so that, thankfully, we never saw that dissatisfaction again.
As we moved outdoors and into the early weeks of the season, Sam made a patient 50 on a slow turner in the Cockspur Cup, yet failed to reach double figures in the first four league games (although he did handle a certain Mr Tino Best well, and he definitely isn’t the type of bowler to cut back his pace and float up charitable half-volleys to youngsters!!). So, in the fifth game, with rain having reduced our innings to 39 overs (from 60) and with me convinced that his game was suited neither to the situation nor the conditions, Sam was demoted from his usual position of number 4 to number 7. He entered the fray at 96 for 5 with around 12 overs remaining and proceeded to flay 47 off 41 balls, getting out in the last over having completely transformed the complexion of the game. The knock included a pair of near-identical upper cuts for six over cover off the opposition’s pacey Sri Lankan professional – truly outstanding shots, in both their conception and execution, but all the more impressive to me when I found out that, the night before, the wee man had gone through two bags on the bowling machine fine-tuning that specific stroke. Anyway, it was definitely a lesson learnt for the skipper!!
This innings was a platform for a spell of very solid, consistent performances, a period in which the sun came out and the pitches firmed up and all the hallmarks of Sam’s batting became apparent, not least the speed with which he judged line and length. In conjunction with his general balance, this quality almost always left him in great positions – and with plenty of time – to deal with the bowling. Ally this to the easy timing of a natural ball player, an exceptionally calm demeanour at the crease, and a devotion to his craft, and it was now evident that he was quite a player.
A one-over cameo against Juan Theron (from
Warriors franchise), bowling with good ‘heat’ and carry on a quickish pitch,
epitomised the talent in our midst. With everyone else scoring almost exclusively
behind square, Sam, recently arrived at the crease, took guard at 80-odd for 2
with Theron trying to blow the game open for his side. The first ball was
back-of-a-length, a shade outside off stump, and nonchalantly allowed through
to the ‘keeper, as if to say “you’re not going to trouble me out there…” The
second ball was a similar length, but straighter this time, and was tucked off his
hip for four. Next ball, Theron over-compensated and was driven firmly back
down the ground to the boundary. He then offered up a wide length ball
that was scorched through covers on the up, the diving fielder getting a full
hand on the ball to half-stop it yet unable to prevent a comfortable two runs.
The penultimate ball was again pitched up, but rolled out slower, as an
off-cutter; Sam’s footwork was slightly undone by the lack of pace, but his
hand-eye co-ordination was still good enough to get his hands through the
hitting area and send the ball back over the bowler’s head, comfortably clear
of any fielders, for a one-bounce four. As you’d expect, Theron decided to drag
his length back for the final delivery and Sam got into a position to hook but
bailed out, deciding to eschew the risk and take one on the shoulder.
Scintillating cricket. South Africa
All in all, I can’t praise Sam’s attitude and application highly enough and it was no great surprise to hear how well this humble and dedicated young man had done when given the opportunity for Staffordshire under-17s,
under-15s, and Nottinghamshire 2nd XI. His composed and skilful batsmanship
against bowlers of international calibre played a significant part in our
against-the-odds Premier League title success, as indeed did the
professionalism that his striving for high standards engendered in our team
culture. His fielding was always alert and, as the season wore on, he proved to
be a very effective seam-bowling option; always nibbling it about, his accuracy
(and lack of pace) allowing his skipper the incredible luxury of only having to
defend two-thirds of the ground. Moreover, he also showed himself to be an
excellent judge of ‘par scores’ in varying conditions, a sure sign of an
intuitive cricket brain that is almost always lacking in young players and, for
me, clear evidence that he will develop into a shrewd captain in time. England
But of all the qualities that Sam exhibited this year, by far the most notable and impressive – certainly one that marks him out from many cricketers, young and old – can be summed up as an appetite for the battle. Whether bowling, batting, or taking responsibility for catches, there was never a situation or a challenge that Sam shirked, never a time when his eyes betrayed anything less than an utter relish for the task facing him. This obviously speaks of a deep and genuine core of self-belief, which, in addition to the attributes already outlined, suggests to me that he has a very bright future in the game.
Moddershall CC, 1st XI Captain