Driffield Town. What a turnaround.
Rewind to September 2021 and the East Yorkshire club’s first team narrowly avoided relegation from the Yorkshire Premier League North on the final day of the season thanks to a narrow home win over Stamford Bridge.
Twelve months and they were celebrating a maiden YPL North title, having won 17 out of their 20 games, pipping York to the crown.
The title was secured in the penultimate round of matches on August Bank Holiday Monday when both themselves and York suffered defeats.
“We bowled Clifton out for next to nothing (125) and then got bowled out ourselves (for 116),” recalled top order batter Noah Kelly, who didn’t actually play in that game.
“We were a bit deflated after that. But everyone was straight onto PlayCricket for the Cas versus York game. The mood changed when we saw that York were a few wickets down chasing a target.
“We were sat in the clubhouse and someone seemed to have a better signal than the rest of us because they got the notification first that Cas had bowled York out and we’d won the league.
“That was it, and quite some turnaround from being rolled for 100.”
Kelly is a second-year Yorkshire Academy player. He is a left-handed wicketkeeper batter who has come through a thriving Driff system from Under 9s.
He explains more about the team’s notable turnaround.
“After avoiding relegation on the last day of the 2021 season, we had a get together as a squad and said, ‘We need to be pushing for the top of the table’,” he said.
“One of the lads mentioned that we could win it and there was a little chuckle around the group like, ‘Yeah, could you imagine’.
“But halfway through the season, we’d had some really good results and we all started to believe it was possible.
“We got a tight victory at York – we defended 240 there. They were one of the biggest challengers, and that gave us real belief. We got a lot of momentum from that.”
Pre-season signings of the Drury brothers Alec and George – both all-rounders who returned to the club from Dunnington – added to the arrival of Indian spinner Mayank Mishra were also key.
“Alec and George are two lads who’ve been really good in this league over the last few years,” said Kelly. “That gave us a lot of confidence.
“We also signed Mayank as our overseas. At the time, he was at the top of the bowling averages in the Ranji Trophy in India.
“He’d tie up one end, take a load of wickets, and he helped us through a lot of games.”
In all cricket, Alec scored 1,047 runs through the season and claimed 34 wickets, while George scored 838 runs and took 19 wickets.
New captain Sam Drury, cousin to Alec and George, also added 824 runs. Mishra claimed 60 wickets.
With the likes of Alec Drury and Mishra at their disposal, Driffield’s bowling attack has been quite spin heavy.
“The deck is pretty spin orientated at Driffield,” said teenager Kelly. “It’s pretty dry and you don’t get a lot out of it as seamers.
“A lot of the grounds like Castleford, etc, have spin friendly pitches, so I think that’s the way to go in the YPL North.”
A-Level student Kelly is a young pup in Driffield’s first team.
“For the majority of the year, I was the youngest and then one of my mates, Ollie Hakner, came in for the last few games. He’s a bit younger than me,” he said.
“He scored 30 or 40 down the order against Beverley and got us up to a good total. That was a really important win for us.”
Kelly opened the batting, batted at three and kept wicket at different stages last season, scoring 364 runs with two fifties. That they both came in games against York tells you quite a bit about the Yorkshire up and comer’s character as much as his skill.
“It’s great to be part of those big games,” he said, having admitted that “it wasn’t my greatest season in the league”.
Kelly described Driffield’s title success as a “special” achievement, made all the more rewarding due to the fact it was achieved by a close group of mates amidst a welcoming, family environment at the club.
“It’s my home club and town, so I’ve grown up watching a lot of the lads,” he continued. “I played right through from Under 9s to the first team.
“A lot of the lads have come through the Driff system, and we’re all a really good group of mates, which is the environment we want to create.”
Kelly’s father Mark is the club’s deputy chairman, while his brother Reuben plays second and third-team cricket there.
“My dad does a lot of the sponsorship and gives up his free time to go to meetings, and I’ve grown up watching my brother and have done a bit of scoring for their matches,” he said, before talking about the club’s development below first-team level.
“On a Friday night, me and my dad usually go down for a net and the field is filled with women’s cricket and junior cricket,” he said.
“We’ve started to field a hardball women’s team, there’s an Under 13s girls team that competes in the boys’ league.
On a Friday night and Sunday morning, the amount of juniors we get down there is really good. It obviously shows when a lot of those players are starting to come through and play second and first-team cricket.
“Every Saturday, my family come down to watch – a lot of families do – and it’s a really great environment to be a part of.”
So, what are the goals for 2023 for the Driff first team whose league success qualified them for the YPL play-offs, in which they were beaten semi-finalists by eventual champions Woodlands from Bradford?
Kelly added: “If we keep the same mentality as we did last season, just enjoy every game, I think we’ll have a great opportunity to go back-to-back. That’s definitely the aim for this year.
“We’ve changed our overseas. Mayank has gone to Cleethorpes, and we’ve signed another Indian left-arm spinner, Tinu Kundu, who hopefully does the same job.
“It’s going to be really exciting. We can’t wait.”