CHESHIRE open their Minor Counties Championship campaign against
Dorset at Oxton CC this weekend hoping to kick-start a run which
will hopefully see them lift silverware come the Championship
final in early September.
Last year the county struggled to field it's best XI players because
of a lack of availability and work commitments from those involved
within the squad.
And although a string of talented youngsters came in and did well
in difficult conditions, it was not enough for Cheshire to win
any honours - a disappointment having tasted the sweet success
of having won the Western Conference in the 2000-2001 season under
the guidance of long-serving skipper Ian Cockbain.
But now Andy Hall is captain and looking forward to his second
year at the reigns of a promising team which he believes has the
strength-in-depth to win something this term.
Hall, who plays for Bramhall in the Murray Smith Accountants Cheshire
County League Premier Division, has already been in good form
with the bat this season, smashing 122 and 76 for his club in
the National Club Knockout Championship, as well as chipping in
with some valuable innings in the league.
And the former Minor Counties Under-25s skipper is hopeful that
he can lead from the front and inspire his players to perform
this season as they search for the championship title.
"A lot depends on availability this season," said Hall,
who spent the winter working and playing cricket in Australia,
which he has done for the last five years.
"If we can field our strongest team this year then we have
every chance of doing well - I'm confident we will be a match
for anyone. It's hard getting the best 11 players every game because
of work commitments and also because a lot of players play for
their club's in cup competitions on a Sunday, so it's difficult
to maintain a consistent side.
"The main one this year is to win the league, but I think
we've got a chance of doing well in the cups as well, especially
the Knockout. We've got a good side to face Dorset, but we have
had to make a few changes."
Indeed, Chester Boughton Hall wicket-keeper Steve 'Shamus' Ogilby
has dropped out of the side because he has still not properly
recovered from a hand injury and experienced all-rounder Paul
Bryson is unavailable because of work commitments.
Those absentees have left a gap open for Mike Bentham, the Oulton
Park wicketkeeper, to fill the gap behind the stumps, while former
Lancashire batsman Paddy McKeown is being lined up as a replacement
for New Brighton player Bryson.
"Shamus isn't available because he's just come back from
injury, so Mike [Bentham] is going to keep wicket and then we
have just got to fill that batting spot left by Paul [Bryson],"
added Hall. "It's a good side and important we get off to
a win. If we start badly then it's going to be hard work, so I'm
hopeful we can get into gear early on."
Former Cumberland seam-bowler David Pennett is also set to make
his debut for Cheshire come Sunday, while Macclesfield bowler
Barney Cutbill has again been give the chance to shine with the
ball, as has Oulton Park's Chris Jones, who has already shown
some good early form this season.
The county have also opted to give promising youngsters Danny
Leech, a gifted opening bat, and Nafees Din, an emerging batsman
at Mobberley, the opportunity to make a name for themselves and
score some useful runs this season.