HALL LIVING THE GOOD LIFE By Neil Goulding
CHESHIRE captain Andy Hall lives for cricket, so much so that he hasn't even contemplated what he'll do when he has to finally hang up his whites at domestic and representative level. The county skipper is currently having a season to remember in the Minor Counties Championship, with back to back centuries in both of Cheshire's opening three-day Western Division games. And allied to that success, Hall, who also captains Bramhall in the CD Bramall Trucks Cheshire County League ECB Premier Division, has been scoring a stack loads of runs for his club. Thankfully at just 33 Hall has plenty of years on his side to continue making a name for himself at a sport he has played for nearly quarter of a century.
"I've not even thought about it [when I have to retire] to be honest. All I've done is play cricket since I was about nine, so I'm sure it will be really strange when I do have to stop playing," admitted a thoughtful Hall, who started playing cricket at his former primary school, Rose Hill in Marple, before discovering his talent ay Marple Hall High School. Representative honours were not far around the corner.
"I'm loving playing more than ever before. I've never lost my love for the game, if I had I've stopped a long time ago. It started at school and it's continued from there.
"Last year was one of the most memorable seasons of my career and I really enjoy captaining Cheshire.
"They're such a great bunch of lads and it's always good to test yourself against the best Minor Counties players, and those ex-first class lads who still play."
No wonder Hall is happy. He guided Bramhall to a memorable promotion last season and also led Cheshire to the Minor Counties Championship crown, a title shared with Suffolk, as well as helping the county become the Western Division winners for the first time since 2001 when they also shared the title.
"There's been so many great times I've experienced through cricket. You have your lows when you don't win and you're not doing as well as you expect yourself too, but the winning and the friends I've made make it all worth while," added Hall.
"I'd love it if we could defend our Minor Counties title this season, but it's going to be very hard now because we've drawn both of our opening matches.
"We played well in both games - at home to Berkshire and away to Cornwall - but a lot of play was lost because of the rain, which meant any chance of a result in either match was never really on the cards.
"It's frustrating because Devon, who are on of our main rivals, have won both of their opening matches, so we've got to realistically win at least three of four remaining games to stand a chance. Ideally we'll win all four, but there's nothing you can do about the weather. We'll need the weather to be kind to us."
Hall led the way with a brilliant knock of 121 as Cheshire dominated a season opening draw against Berkshire at Chester Boughton Hall Cricket Club, before smashing an impressive 138 away to Cornwall at Truro Cricket Club last month.
And with three-day matches coming up against Herefordshire, Wales and Shropshire, Hall is confident of maintaining his run-scorer success.
Averaging over 40 for his Cheshire career, Hall has now scored seven centuries - the biggest a 175 landmark which came against Wales in Abergavenny, 2003 - as well as 20+ half-centuries to his name.
His heroics in Cornwall took him past 3,000 career runs for Cheshire in just 47 matches, although there's still some way to go if wants to eclipse the longest tenure of any Cheshire skipper.
In 2002 Hall replaced Ian Cockbain at the helm after his experienced counterpart had spent ten years in Cheshire hot seat.
However, having now moulded a Championship-winning side, it is understandable Hall wants to be the captain who guides Cheshire to even more success.
"We've got the makings of a very successful side, but it's all about making sure the players can play every match. Playing three-day cricket is a big commitment, especially because we start games on a Sunday and all of the players also play on a Saturday," he said.
"We've struggled with availability this season, but we've performed very well, which just goes to show the depth of players in the county.
"There's quite a few players who have come through the ranks and done really well."
Hall himself graduated from the Cheshire junior ranks. He joined his first club, Marple, when he was nine, before being selected for Cheshire Under-13s, his first taste of representative cricket.
Next came the chance to captain Cheshire teams at Under-15, U17 and U19 levels, as well as being bestowed the honour of captaining the England Schoolboys, a time which Hall looks back on a big turning point in his career.
"It was a very proud time for me. I knew cricket was the path I wanted to follow and I suppose I made a natural transition into the senior side having served my apprenticeship," he said.
"I made my Cheshire debut in 1992. It was a great moment for me - and luckily I've managed to stay in the side ever since."
Hall started his senior career with Marple, then had spells with Stockport, a season at Bradshaw, followed by seven years at Atherton, finally bringing us up to speed, now in his sixth season with Bramhall.
"I've played cricket all across the North West, abroad and against some top cricketers, so I have great memories.
"But my proudest memory has to be winning the National Club Knockout Cup with Bramhall.
"We beat Bath in the 2001 final at Lords. It was such an amazing day for everyone. Winning the Minor Counties Championship last year was also a great achievement, but playing, scoring a half-century and winning a final at Lords tops it all for me."
Remaining 2006/7 fixture schedule, Cheshire first team- Minor Counties three-day Championship, Western Division: v Herefordshire (23-25 July @ Alderley Edge), v Wales (6-8 August @ tbc) and v Shropshire (20-22 August @ Whitchurch).
Cheshire A-team forthcoming fixtures: August 1 v Staffordshire 2nd XI @ Knypersley).