CHESHIRE'S ROAD TO THE FINAL 2009 - by Neil Goulding

Having narrowly missed on the Western Division title in 2008 by just one point, Cheshire were determined to make sure of a place in this season's Championship final.

And skipper Andy Hall and his unbeaten side did exactly that after a season to remember, one which saw them clinch the Western Division title on the very last day of the season.

But the seeds for a successful campaign were sewn as early as the first week in June when Hall's ambitious charges edged the points 12-10 away to fellow title-favourites Cornwall.

Rain had the final say at Falmouth as both sides were denied the chance of a victory with a premature finish, but Ben Spendlove starred with a brilliant 148, while James Duffy (64), Nathan Dumelow (59) and Hall (56) were also in the runs.

Off-spinner Dumelow also impressed with a match return of 5-142 from 40 overs, while left-arm pace ace Adam Syddall starred with match figures of 7-122 from 32.5 overs.

And so on to Berkshire and the county's first home game of the season which yielded an impressive four-wicket win.

Dumelow weighed in with an important 5-96 return from 30 overs, while Chris Tipper (82), Spendlove (81), Matthew Dawson (73), Rick Moore (61) and Hall (39) were on-song with the willow.

Moore then made 50 as Cheshire successfully chased for victory, Hall and Dawson guided the team home.

Next up was a home clash with Herefordshire, but having dominated the match at Nantwich, the points were shared 12-12 when rain brought a premature end on the final day.

Tipper carried on his sparkling form with a brilliant 219, with Dawson (61 not out) and Warrne Goodwin (48) both helping the hosts amass a daunting 454 in their first innings.

Herefordshire were bowled out for 327, some 127 runs behind as Berry (4-53) and Dumelow (4-94) did the damage with the ball.

Spendlove (70) and Tipper (50), again in the runs, helped Cheshire reach 201-5 - a lead of 328 - but the weather halted any chances of a victory.

Cheshire's third back-to-back home game, this time against Dorset, was washed out without a ball being bowled.

There was no play on any of three days at Alderley Edge Cricket Club as the Moss Lane pitch was deemed unplayable. Both sides were awarded six points after the visitors had won the toss and chose to field.

Needing to win both of their last two matches to stand any chance of winning the Western Division title, Cheshire showed they were up to the challenge.

A comprehensive 356 runs victory away to Wales Minor Counties at Abergavenny set up a mouth-watering finale to the season with Cornwall and Oxfordshire also in the title hunt.

Duffy (99), Goodwin (56), Moore (44) and Berry (44 not out) were in the runs as Cheshire batted first, before Dumelow (5-102) and Jason Whittaker (3-46) made sure of a first innings lead of 110 runs.

At the second time of asking Dumelow (104), Spendlove (66), Hall (53), Goodwin (47) and Tipper (46) gave Cheshire a commanding lead, before Dumelow (4-20) and Whittaker (3-33) were in the wickets against as Wales were routed for 110.

Cheshire knew they needed to win their last game of the season away to Shropshire to give them the best possible hope of winning the title.

And the county didn't disappoint at Whitchurch with a five-wicket win chasing just 199 for victory in the last day.

Berry (3-99) and Adam Syddall (2-54) impressed with the ball, before Spendlove (113) and Berry (50), this time with the bat, saw Cheshire trail by just 20 runs after the first innings.

Syddall then was on fire with the ball, his Championship best return of 8-83 from 23.4 overs swung the game.
The left-armer finished with match figures of 10-137 from 33.4 overs as Cheshire took control.

Spendlove (59), David Hurst (39), Dumelow (31 not out) and Dawson (28) scored the runs as Cheshire made sure of victory - and with it the Western Division title 12 points ahead of second-placed Cornwall. Oxfordshire finished third with 85 points.