By Neil Goulding
CHESHIRE captain Andy Hall has been around a bit in the game
- even by his own admission.
And over the winter that led to rumours to whether the talented batsman was going to return to play for Bramhall, his club in the Murray Smith Accountants Cheshire County League Premier Division, and more importantly, if he was going to captain his county for a second season having taken over the reigns from long-serving captain Ian Cockbain in January last year.
But rumours are not always to be believed and Hall, who has already discovered some good form with the willow this season, is biting at the bit to get back into the County fray.
A well-earned break over the winter playing cricket in Australia, as well as working Down Under, hasn't take the gloss and appetite off captaining the county he has grown up playing for.
"Cheshire has always been my county and I've captained the youth sides, so I'm very proud to be the captain again this year," said Hall, who is confident of guiding his team to success this term. "I didn't hear anything different when I was in Australia. We didn't particularly have a good run last season, but if they offered me the job I was I was always going to do it. We under-achieved last season, but I'm really looking forward to the challenge of doing better."
Hall was born in Gorton, Manchester, and it didn't take him long before he was producing the type of innings and commanding respect from fellow players that established him as a household name in the top leagues in the North West.
Successful spells at Marple, where he began his career and played until he was 18; Stockport, Atherton and then as Bradshaw's professional in the Bolton League, were some of the key stages which led to Hall developing into the player he is today - and also giving the Cheshire selectors the confidence to give him the captaincy after Cockbain had done the job for a staggering 11 years on the trot.
And now Hall is determined to repay that confidence and build a foundation in which Cheshire can compete with the best teams in the Western Conference.
"There's obviously six games in the Championship, but it's going to be hard if we lose the first one because it's not a long season," said Hall. "We need to get off to a good start against Dorset in our first match and we have definitely got the players to do that."
But as well as having his sights sets on seeing if Cheshire can have a successful season in the Minor Counties Championship, Hall is optimistic of staging a good cup run this year, especially in the Minor Counties Knockout Cup, which he believes could favour his side if they play to their true potential.
"With it reverting back to the Minor Counties Knockout this season you can see a path to the final having only played three games, where as last year you had five group games and then you were into the quarter-finals - so it was seven games before you got in the final and played at Lords," said Hall, "but now we have had a bye in the first round and if we beat Northumberland in the next round we are into the last-16 and you can start to see the finishing line."
But Hall is adamant that Cheshire have to play their strongest squad this season if they are to stand a chance of challenging for honours.
"If we can get our best XI first team out this season in the six championship games, then I'm sure we'd be a challenge for anyone and I'd be surprised if we weren't up there in the last game challenging to win it.
"In an ideal world I would love to have the same team for every match, but it is a big commitment to play for Cheshire because of work and family commitments. It's hard because it can take 14-15 days of your holiday up, so you have got to be prepared to make sacrifices, but we know that our success depends on availability this season and hopefully we can improve on that."
And the former Minor Counties Under-25 captain is looking for those youngsters who were given the opportunity to prove themselves last season to step up this time around and hopefully make a name for themselves, as well as the more experienced players in the squad.
Promising opening batsman Danny Leech, a former clubmate of Hall at Bramhall, until a move to Oulton Park this season, is just one of the players which the Cheshire captain is backing to make his mark.
"Young Danny Leech played last year and he grabbed his chance, so he's one of the first on the teamsheet this year," added Hall."The same with Nafees Din (Mobberley) who is also a good player. Those two lads maybe wouldn't have got a chance when we were picking the team last year, but because of a lack of availability they came in and took their chance - so as far as I'm concerned they'll be in the first few games and if they play well they should stay in the team."
Sound advice and a huge amount of faith from a player who has scored over 1,500 runs for his county at an average of 40.12. Those career statistics, which includes two centuries and no fewer than 11 fifties, has earnt Hall the respect he so richly deserves.
But the Cheshire skipper still believes he has got more to offer his county, along with his club.
"My form has been alright, I've not played too bad, but I'm not completely happy," added Hall. "I think I can play a lot better, but we don't rely on just me, we've got a lot of players including the two professional lads from outside the county which can give you that something extra. It's always nice to have that because you can always throw the ball to them if you need to bowl a side out. We have got a good balance this year, so if we start well I'm sure we can build from that."