Andy Hall reflects on 2005 season with Cheshire Press Officer Neil Goulding

What a season we had. It's hard to know where to start, but I think I will by congratulating all the players whom, without their support, experience and skill on the field, last season would not have been possible.

I've been trying to mould a strong Cheshire side during the past few seasons and as our Chairman of Selectors, Gerry Hardstaff would agree, we've often been locked in lengthy negotiations who deserves to play for the county. It's never easy with so many talented players around these days, but we got there in the end - and our selection policy proved to be successful.

I've always maintained that we need a good balance of youth and experience, especially with the new Minor Counties rules making teams younger by average age. It would be foolish to play a team of all youngsters in each game. No disrespect meant, but you need senior players to help the juniors progress and become accustomed to Minor Counties standard which, most if not all players will tell you, is a massive step up from League cricket.

And so to the season. First up, Herefordshire away at Luctonians. It was a difficult deck, but we completely out played them over the course of the two and half days we needed for victory. It was also nice to see Mark Currie back with us having ended his days with Lancashire.

'Cuzzer' is a product of the Cheshire youth system and he showed he hadn't lost any of his natural aggressive talent with a splendid knock of 71 in our second innings. Chasing 414 to win I always felt we were in the driving seat. It is a shame he has decided not to play this year. I wish him the best of luck as he captains Alderley Edge in the Cheshire County League ECB Premier Division this season.

It was also Nathan Dumelow's first game for Cheshire. An ex-Derbyshire all-rounder, 'Dummers' finished with match figures of 9-96, breaking Nigel Peel's 1995 record-haul of 9-98 against Herefordshire. Not a bad debut then!

Also in form on debut was Chris Schofield, a player who doesn't need an introduction. With England and Lancashire honours to toast, 'Schoey' took wickets and scored 150 runs on debut, which included a cracking century in our first innings and then a quickfire half-century in our second dig.

Individual performances were excellent, but importantly I felt we gelled well as a team, especially with the new players taken into the fold, and we'd started the season with a confidence-boosting win.

Last season was also memorable for two of our county's servants. Dave Pennett, our tireless pace bowler and useful batsman, and wicket-keeper Stephen Ogilby - also a talented bat - who were awarded their county caps. It gave me great pleasure to cap 'Penners' and 'Shamus' after all their hard work and support to the team. Shamus was also awarded a special 'soft' cream-colour cardigan sporting the Cheshire wheatsheaf, an item of clothing he had pined after for some time. Both players received their caps at Chester Boughton Hall, particularly poignant for Shamus being his home club.

Shamus is a soft hands gloveman, never shy of a word or two, whether too a nervous
batsman or where he was having lunch that day, having fun but being serious
about the game was always his main concentration. International honours with Ireland were duly deserved.

Meanwhile, Penners has been an integral part of the county side in his three years with
us. His experience and enthusiasm, love and feel for the game, rubs off on the whole of the side, and not just through his many fine performances for the county, but the help he has given off the field too all the players and myself, you could not bottle. Someone you would always want in the trenches with you when the going got tough.

The championship season was a great success, winning the western division, and then sharing the overall thing after a rain affected final. All the players contributed, which I think was crucial too our success.

We lost to Wales in the MCCA Cup after a tense match at Nantwich, but then grew in strength and were not beaten for the rest of the season.

A draw with Cornwall at Alderley Edge, when we nearly snatched a memorable victory, and then a rain-affects draw with Devon left us hovering comfortably in mid-table. But we pushed on and with 24 points picked up against Wiltshire in Trowbridge gave us hope of winning the title.

The hope was always there, but you have to win your games with so many good teams battling for the title. We made sure of 23 points against Oxfordshire at Nantwich, and then a draw against Wales at Chester, after a frantic run-chase where we came within four runs of victory, was good enough for us to reach the final.

Off to Ipswich to play Suffolk in the final. Rain spoilt the first day and although both teams wanted outright victory, it was always going to be difficult to achieve over the course of two days with so much at stake.

When the going got tough we dug in and made sure all our hard season's work didn't go to waste. Sharing the title was a splendid effort for a splendid season.

During the whole season, two lads with both bat and ball stand out. Schoey and Dummers invariably had an impact on every game they played in. I thought it was fitting Dummers won the man-of-the-match award at this year's final in Ipswich. I'm looking forward to him playing for us again this season.

One of the most pleasing things from my point of view though was the ability and performance of the youngsters and 'debutantes' who came into the county side and performed under pressure.

Warren Goodwin, Nick Cantello, James Duffy, Matthew Dawson, Danny Jones, Guy Emmett, Tom Young and Adam Wildig, all more than played their part in us winning the Western Division pennant, along with the help of 'old-stagers' Robin Fisher, Jason Whittaker and Barney Cutbill.

In conclusion I am looking forward too us defending our title this year and cannot see any
reason why we should not have success again on the three-day front. The squad of quality players at our disposal means complacency is out of the equation.

With the new format for the one-day competition - this is our initial challenge this year - we want to make an impact in the MCCA Knockout Cup. We have under-performed in years gone by and I want that to change. I'm confident it can with the right application and a bit of luck as well. Hopefully no more bowl-outs against Berkshire!

Finally, on a personal note, may I thank all our sponsors, especially our main sponsor Lancashire Brewers J.W.Lees, for supporting Cheshire. Also, thanks to all the clubs who have been kind enough too host county games, all the players who have given there time
and effort to represent our county, and finally too a very hard working committee whose time and effort was fully rewarded with the success we had last year.

Here's looking forward too an equally successful, if not better season in 2006.