Peter Wilshaw will captain Staffordshire for the first time at the weekend when he takes charge of the NCCA Championship Division One East game against Lincolnshire.
He talks to CHRIS TRAVERS about his county career which has seen him rise from up-and-coming talent to permanent three-day captain…
Peter Wilshaw’s Staffs career has taken him from Barrow to Bournemouth, Newport to Norwich. And everywhere inbetween.
But it will be closer to home – a short hop down the M6 to West Bromwich Dartmouth – which will signal the proudest moment of his time wearing the Staffordshire Knot. The date is already etched firmly in his mind.
On Sunday, July 25, Wilshaw will lead Staffordshire out for the first time as permanent captain in their Championship opener against Lincolnshire.
Wilshaw was appointed three-day captain in the winter, with Leek wicketkeeper-batsman Alex Mellor leading the one-day side as Staffs split the role for the first time.
For Wilshaw it marks the highlight of a 17-year journey on the minor counties circuit, which has featured plenty of highs, lows, cheers and tears… as well as divisional titles in 2014 and 2019, the overall crown in 2014 and two trips to the one-day showpiece.
He’s been in contention to be captain before, when Paul Goodwin stepped down at the end of the 2014 title-winning season and also when Kadeer Ali called it quits because of work commitments in 2019.
It’s third time lucky for the Meakins batsman, though, after Sam Kelsall’s resignation – without taking charge of a match after last year’s programme was called off because of the coronavirus pandemic – created an opportunity.
“I’ve always liked the idea of being captain. I was involved at a young age at Longton and have done bits and pieces at Meakins,” he explained.
“As time has moved on with Staffs, I felt due to my experience that I was Gooders’ right-hand man and that rolled on with Kaddy.
“There was the thought that having captained Staffordshire at under-10s level it would be a nice conclusion to skipper the senior side.
“But I felt that my chance had probably gone. When Kaddy announced he was finishing, a bit earlier than people expected because of his great job opportunity at Worcestershire, I was disappointed not to take over.
“I did understand the decision to appoint Sam. I think he would have done a good job and a lot of his ideas were with the best intentions of the county at heart.
“I just wished he would have given it a bit more time, but saying that, I wouldn’t have been given the opportunity otherwise.”
It seems remarkable that 34-year-old Wilshaw has spent virtually half of his life representing Staffordshire’s senior side, clocking up thousands of miles on motorways.
And his elevation to the top job gives him time to reflect on where it all started.
It was June 2004 when he was called up for his debut against Suffolk at Ipswich ground Ransomes.
The fresh-faced 16-year-old made 43 in the first innings, before centuries from Kim Barnett and Phil Cheadle helped Staffs to knock off their victory target of 305 with three balls of the 58 overs afforded to them remaining.
Recalling the six-wicket win, Wilshaw said: “I was a late call up because of an injury.
“I travelled down on the Saturday night with Richard Harvey, who was the captain, and chewed his ear off for the entire journey about who was playing, what the ground was like, what to expect. I just wanted to get as much information as possible.
“I remember getting to the hotel and the first person to meet me was David Hancock. It was the first time in a few years he had been match manager.
“He’d got there early and he greeted me with a smile and welcomed me to the club – that’s a memory which has always stuck with me.
“I don’t recall being too nervous until the morning of the game and we got to the ground and (former England fast bowler) Devon Malcolm was playing for them. That made it seem real all of a sudden.
“The game was incredible. I got 40-odd first up and luckily didn’t have to face big Devon. They had men around the bat and there was plenty of chat. I was naive at the time.
“We were set a big chase on the last day and it didn’t start well with Rob King having his thumb broken by Devon. But Kim and Phil then belted it to all parts, put on 200-plus and we got closer.
“I hit a couple of nice fours and Kim told me not to do anything stupid… so I ran down the wicket and got caught with a few runs needed…
“The look of despair – and disappointment – on Dave Womble’s face as he walked past me to bat has stayed with me. He then ran down and hit a boundary to win it for us… ‘that’s how you do it, kid’.”
That encounter in East Anglia was the first of 89 Championship matches for Wilshaw, while he has also figured in 57 Knockout Trophy games and 16 Twenty20 encounters.
Experience isn’t an issue for Wilshaw as he prepares to skipper the side, and neither is the amount of knowledge he has absorbed from playing under left-handed batsman Harvey, wicketkeeper Paul Goodwin and ex-Worcestershire and Gloucestershire opener Kadeer Ali.
“Harv, Gooders and Kaddy were all fantastic. They are incredible men, as well as being really good players for the county.
“If I could take anything from them, Harv was the ultimate man-manager. Everyone who played for the county knew their role and what was expected.
“Gooders was one of the most thoughtful and unflappable cricketers. If we were 300-5, did I expect Gooders to get runs? Absolutely not.
“But if we were 50-5, would Gooders bat for his life to score runs and save the county? One hundred per cent. And he was also amazing as a wicketkeeper.
“Kaddy, the professionalism he brought with his tactical knowledge is unrivalled with anyone I have played with.
“It didn’t matter who walked out to bat or bowl for us, he always had full confidence in them.
“Their influence will be written on this team, but they’ve all messaged me to say I have to do things my own way and not follow anyone else.”
Wilshaw cuts an unmistakable figure on the field. He has been described in a minor counties book as ‘looking like a bearded, burly farmhand’, but his jovial nature doesn’t detract from serious business – scoring runs.
He’s amassed more than 5,500 in the Championship arena, in excess of 1,500 in one-dayers and is closing in on 500 in the T20 format.
His tally of 14 Championship centuries for Staffs leaves him behind only county legend Steve Dean, who scored 19.
There’s added responsibility now he’s in charge, but Wilshaw isn’t losing sight of the fact he still needs to deal in his primary currency.
“My role in the Staffordshire side has probably changed a little bit in the last few years, but I feel as though I’ve played more match-winning innings in that time,” he added.
“I’ll continue to play for the team, but I’m always after scoring more runs. If any batsman doesn’t say that, there’s something wrong with them.
“I’ve never really thought about specific targets. There’s just the desire to get the best out of myself, which will benefit the team, that is a massive motivation.
“When my time is up I’ll look back at what I’ve achieved, but at the moment that’s for other people to worry about.
“From a captaincy point of view, I hope I’ll find the transition easy. I don’t think it will be a massive change from Kaddy’s time in charge of the team.
“I just want to help to get the best out of every player that pulls on the shirt and hope that they display the same pride and love playing for Staffs that I have.”
Wilshaw is taking charge of Staffordshire’s three-day side at a good time.
They are the current Eastern Division champions, and narrowly lost by one wicket to all-conquering Berkshire in the 2019 Championship final at Banbury.
“We are in a good place, but to go one better we’ve got to beat some very good sides,” he added, with matches against Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk on the agenda in a new-look National Counties Cricket Association Championship format.
“The switch to four divisions makes it interesting because teams are all at the same level.
“In the past, with not playing everyone, you could win the title without playing the strongest sides.
“It’s 100 per cent the aim to win the title as captain. I’ve done it as a player, but to skipper the team to success would be special.
“We won the overall title in 2014 and when we left Banbury a couple of years ago there was instantly that desire to get back to the final and have another crack.”
The icing on the county cake for Wilshaw is being named Staffordshire skipper.
If he can lead them to silverware, that would be the cherry on the top for the prolific batsman.