By Neil Goulding

CHESHIRE captain Andy Hall is relishing a new season in the Minor Counties Championship Western Division and the MCCA Knockout Cup.

Now in his third term in charge of Cheshire, Hall believes the county have been bubbling nicely in the past few seasons with the emergence of some talented youngsters.

But now the former England schoolboy batsman is convinced the time is right to push harder for honours in both the league and cup competitions.

"We've had a couple of decent seasons and ended up finishing mid-table, so it would be nice to build on those seasons and finish higher," said Hall.

"It would also be great to have a good run in the MCCA Cup because we've never reached the semi-finals before."

Indeed. Cheshire were unlucky last year when they lost to Berkshire at Cheadle Hulme in a quarter-final bowl-out, and the year before suffered at the hands of former Surrey batsman David Ward, at the same stage, as they went out to Hertfordshire.

"If you win three games in the MCCA Knockout you can be playing at Lords, which would be great for all the players," added Hall.

"The main priority, though, is the Western Division. There's no easy games, but it will be important to have a winning start and get a couple of wins under our belts.

"A couple of victories would take the pressure of us and I'm sure give the lads confidence going forward for the rest of the season."

Cheshire open their account against Herefordshire, a county they did not play last year.

And although Herefordshire finished bottom of the Western Division last year, Hall is not taking anything for granted.

"Herefordshire have got some good players and they might have strengthened over the winter, but we will have to play well to win. There's no easy game at this level."

Cheshire have lost former Notts batsman Graeme Archer and ex-Hampshire all-rounder Simon Renshaw this term, but replaced the duo with Mark Currie, the former Lancashire batsman and ex-Derbyshire duo Steve Selwood and Nathan Dumelow.

"It's a real shame we've lost Graeme and Simon, they have both been good players for the county, but Mark Currie has proved at Minor Counties level he can score runs and I'm sure the experience he got at Lancashire was invaluable.

"Nathan and Steve have been highly-recommended, and with Mark we've strengthened over the winter. We've also got some good young players coming through who should get a chance as well."

Fast bowler Danny Jones, from the Lancashire Academy, and ex-Worcestershire pace ace Jon Farrow are both tipped to feature this season, while promising Hyde bowler Tom Young may also have a run in the team.

"It's great to see there a few youngsters to pick from. These lads are the future of the county club and playing now will be good experience for them."