Day 3 CHESHIRE'S VICTORY HOPES THWARTED BY RAIN By Neil Goulding

CHESHIRE's hopes of victory in their opening 3-day Minor County Championship match with Berkshire were dashed by rain yesterday.The defending Western Division champions were well in control on the final day of action, needing just seven wickets for victory at Chester Boughton Hall, before rain brought a premature halt to proceedings.Andy Hall's team led the former MCCA Knockout Cup winners by 242 runs and, with a superb debut century from Hyde's James Duffy - who also scored an unbeaten 98 in the first innings - Berkshire were left a daunting winning target of 402 to win on the last day. Nathan Dumelow (57) and first innings centurion Nick Cantello (48) were also in the runs as Cheshire, having been 145-3 overnight, put their foot on the gas and declared at 304-6 - scoring an additional 159 runs in 25 overs. Dumelow took just 46 balls for his quickfire half-century, which included seven 4s and two 6s, while Duffy's impressive knock included 15 x 4s and 3 x 6s. Berkshire had reached 121-3 half an hour before tea, still needing 282 runs for victory in under two sessions of play, when the heavens opened and the hosts were denied the chance to force a victory. "It's very frustrating, but there's not much you can do when it rains," reflected Cheshire skipper Andy Hall."I felt we've always been in control of this game and Berkshire were never going to win on the last day."If we'd have got a few more wickets, quick ones ideally, then I'd have fancy our chances of getting a win."

Cheshire did not play Berkshire last season on the way to winning the Western Division crown, but two years ago at Falkland CC pulled off an unlikely victory with their hosts needing just 193 for victory in their second innings. Hall and his side bowled them out for 137 for a sweet victory. And although victory would have been the perfect start to the season, with Hall and his ambitious charges looking to win the prestigious Minor Counties Championship title outright, the county skipper took plenty of positives from his side's performance.

"We've had three players make centuries and others bat well, and then Nathan [Dumelow] showed again what a class act he is with the ball by taking seven wickets," added Hall. Indeed. Promising left-hander Duffy certainly has plenty to smile about with 206 runs in the match, while Cantello was not far behind with 165 runs.Dumelow finished with match figures of 8-162 from 49 overs to make sure of an excellent starts to the season, while seamer Chris Finnegan, playing his first game in a number of years, can be proud of the four wickets he took in the match for the J W Lees-sponsored Cheshire side, finishing with figures of 4-92. Hall said: "There have been some excellent performances throughout the team - and it was great to see us be so commanding in our first game of the season. "Berkshire are one of the toughest sides around at the moment and we knew it was going to be a tough match. On another day, and if the weather had stayed fine, then we might have grabbed a win."

Scorecard

Minor Counties Championship (final day of three, Chester Boughton Hall):
Cheshire first innings: 434-5, 90 overs (A Hall 121, N Cantello 117, J Duffy 98 not out, M Dawson 40 not out).

Berkshire first innings: 341 all out, 89 overs (N Dumelow 7-114, C Finnegan 3-52, S Naylor 149, D Yousego 68).

Cheshire second innings (overnight 145-3): 304-6, 61 overs (J Duffy 108, N Dumelow 57, N Cantello 48).

Berkshire second innings: 121-3.

RESULT: Match drawn. Points: Cheshire 12, Berkshire 10.

Day 2 DUMELOW HAS BERKSHIRE IN A SPIN By Neil Goulding

SPIN-KING Nathan Dumelow led Cheshire's charge for victory on the second day of their three-day Minor Counties Championship clash with Berkshire at Chester Boughton Hall.
The Oulton Park off-spinner finished with figures of 7-114 from 35.5 overs as the home side finished the day with a lead of 242 runs.
Berkshire were cruising at 240-3 until a spell after lunch saw them lose their last seven wickets for just 94 runs, a first innings lead of 104 for Cheshire.
James Duffy, who smashed a rapid 98 not out in the first innings, then did the damage with the bat again and resumes today unbeaten on 61, well aided by Nick Cantello (39 not out) as Cheshire reached 145-3 from the remaining 41 overs of the day.
Bad light eventually took the players off, but if Cheshire can score some quick runs this morning and then get some cheap wickets before lunch, they have every chance of beating their Western Division rivals.
"It's going to be tough, but we're definitely in the driving seat," predicted Cheshire skipper Andy Hall.
"Berkshire were going along strong until Nathan bowled us into a strong position and turned the game back in our favour again.
"I'm sure Nathan and Robin Fisher, both of our spinners, will come into play on this last day. It could be very interesting and we'd all love a win to get our season off to the perfect start."
If the J W Lees-sponsored Cheshire side do win it will be the perfect start to their Minor Counties Championship campaign, with five games remaining victories are all important and crucial, even at this stage in the season.
"You can't really afford to lose any games," added Hall. "We found that out last year and although we didn't lose, it still went to the wire.
"We're given ourselves a great chance of winning this game, but we've got to give it everything on the last day."

Scorecard
Minor Counties Championship (day two of three, Chester Boughton Hall):
Cheshire first innings: 434-5, 90 overs (A Hall 121, N Cantello 117, J Duffy 98 not out, M Dawson 40 not out). Berkshire first innings: 341 all out, 89.3 overs (N Dumelow 7-114, C Finnegan 3-52).
Cheshire second innings: 145-3, 41 overs (J Duffy 61 not out, N Cantello 39 not out).
Points thus far: Cheshire 8, Berkshire 6.

Day 1 CENTURIES GIVE CHESHIRE THE UPPER HAND By Neil Goulding

CHESHIRE have made a commanding start to their opening 3-day Minor Counties Championship against Berkshire at Chester Boughton Hall. Skipper Andy Hall (121) and Nick Cantello (117) both smashed brilliant centuries as last year's Western Division winners posted an imposing 434-5 from their allotted 90 overs. Promising youngster James Duffy weighed in with a rapid uneaten 98, while new first-choice wicketkeeper Matt Dawson made 40 not out as the J W Lees-spsonsored Cheshire side, who won the toss and elected to bat, put themselves in a strong position. Late replacement Chris Finnegan then grabbed a wicket in the final session of the day as Berkshire closed on 80-1 from 20 overs, leaving the visitors with plenty of hard work to do. Neston's Finnegan was drafted in at the final hour for Oulton Park pace ace Danny Jones, one of three players who were forced to withdraw from the team of the match. Bollington all-rounder Kevin Waterhouse and Oulton Park batsman Ben Spendlove were also absent and replaced by Bramhall seamer Barney Cutbill and Oxton's Chris Davies, the latter who was twelfth man and who was given the chance to open the batting for his county on debut.
"It was a very solid batting performance," said skipper Hall, who was also delighted with his personal contribution to Cheshire's commanding total.
"We lost a few early wickets, but the rest of the batting order pulled us through. Nick Cantello and James Duffy batted excellently, and it was great to get a big score myself.
"It's a great track, so Berkshire will fancy their chances of getting a few runs.
"But it's up to us to get some early wickets and dismiss them cheaply."
The J W Lees Cheshire team is: Andy Hall (capt), Matt Dawson (wkt kpr), Nick Cantello, Barney Cutbill (Bramhall); Danny Leech, Nathan Dumelow (Oulton Park); James Duffy, Tom Young (Hyde); Chris Finnegan (Neston); Robin Fisher (Chester Boughton Hall); Chris Davies (Oxton). 12th man: Heath Pritchard (Chester Boughton Hall).

Scorecard (Day 1 of 3):
Cheshire 1st innings: 434-5 (Hall 121, Cantello 117, Duffy 98 not out, Dawson 40 not out)
Berkshire 1st innings: 80-1, 20 overs

CHESHIRE have made two late changes to their team ahead of their opening Minor Counties Championship Western Division clash with Berkshire at Chester Boughton Hall, which runs June 11-13.All-rounder Jason Whittaker has withdrawn from the squad on the eve of the match because of work commitments and is replaced by Bollington's Kevin Waterhouse, while Oxton's Chris Davies replaces Warren Goodwin as 12th man.Waterhouse made his one-day for the J W Lees-sponsored Cheshire last month, playing two Knockout Cup matches, but will make his three-day debut when he starts on Sunday."We'll miss Jason because he's one of our most experienced and most successful players in recent seasons, but Kevin deserves his chance and I hope he rises to the occasion," said Cheshire skipper Andy Hall. "Berkshire are a very strong side and we know we will have to play well to win. It's a hard opener for the season, but if we win that's the perfect start for us."

The J W Lees Cheshire team is: Andy Hall (capt), Matt Dawson (wkt kpr), Nick Cantello (Bramhall); Danny Leech, Ben Spendlove, Nathan Dumelow, Danny Jones (Oulton Park); James Duffy, Tom Young (Hyde); Kevin Waterhouse (Bollington); Robin Fisher (Chester Boughton Hall). 12th man: Chris Davies (Oxton).

CHESHIRE have named a strong team as they begin the defence of their Minor Counties Championship Western Division title, starting their 3-day campaign against Berkshire at Chester Boughton Hall (June 11-13).

Former Derbyshire duo Nathan Dumelow and Ben Spendlove have retained their places after the county's recent one-day knockout matches, while promising youngsters James Duffy, Tom Young and Danny Jones are also included.

Captain Andy Hall is looking for a winning start to the season and said: "Berkshire are probably one of the toughest, if not the toughest team in our division.

"We know we are going to have to play well to beat them, but if we perform as I know we can, then I'm confident we can start the season with a win."

Last season Hall guided Cheshire to a seven-game unbeaten run in the 3-day format of the game, which culminated in the county sharing the Minor Counties crown with Suffolk after a drawn final at Ransomes Cricket Club, Ipswich.

And having kept many of the players from last season's successful team, Hall is understandably upbeat about Cheshire's chances of going all the way again this term.

"We played so well in the 3-day form of the game last season, there's no reason why we can't do it again!," added Hall.

"We've lost some important players, but that usually happens most years and to be fair we've recruited well this season.

"Because of new rules we have to have a young team, which is good for the future of the county.

"A lot of the younger players have played for a couple or few seasons now, so they have valuable experience under their belts."

Cheshire lost top all-rounder Chris Schofield this season. The former England leg-spinner and left-handed bat moved to Suffolk, while former Lancashire batsman Mark Currie, who opened the batting for Cheshire last season, retired from the Minor Counties game to concentrate on his club cricket.

The J W Lees-sponsored Cheshire side signed former Derbyshire ace Spendlove, a good friend of fellow first-class player Dumelow.

And with proven all-rounder Jason Whittaker back in the frame having missed games because of work commitments, Cheshire look strong on paper to test their Western Division opponents this season.

"There's no easy games, but on saying that we've not afraid of anyone," said Hall.

"We don't have to be. We proved last year that we can beat the best sides and, with a bit of luck, if we can keep a consistent side and do what we did so well last season, then I'm confident we've got a great chance of defending our title."

The J W Lees Cheshire team is: Andy Hall (capt), Matt Dawson (wkt kpr), Nick Cantello (Bramhall); Danny Leech, Ben Spendlove, Nathan Dumelow, Danny Jones (Oulton Park); James Duffy, Tom Young (Hyde); Jason Whittaker (Wishaw); Robin Fisher (Chester Boughton Hall). 12th man: Warren Goodwin (Chester Boughton Hall).

Sunday 11th June

Minor Counties 3-Day Championship, Western Division (Chester Boughton Hall, 11am): Cheshire v Berkshire.

Remaining 2006/7 fixture schedule - Minor Counties three-day Championship: v Cornwall (25-27 June @ Cornwall), v Dorset (9-11 July @ Nantwich), v Herefordshire (23-25 July @ Alderley Edge), v Wales (6-8 August @ tbc) and v Shropshire (20-22 August @ Whitchurch).