Cheshire build on youth
Cheshire captain Andy Hall insists it is important for Minor
Counties sides to give youth a chance, and hopes his batch of
promising youngsters can help the side emulate last season's achievements.
Cheshire won the Minor Counties Championship and reached the final of the MCCA Knockout Trophy in 2007.
They have begun the campaign in impressive fashion with MCCA Knockout Trophy wins over Bedfordshire and Shropshire.
And Hall will look to involve younger players whenever possible as they continue their bid for glory this summer.
"Although we obviously look to be successful on the field, it's important that youngsters from Cheshire are given the opportunity to play," said Hall.
"You want to win games whilst giving youngsters a chance, and if you can manage the two together that's all for the better.
"We've tried to establish closer links between the county side, league clubs and schools, so there's a clear pathway for young players.
"They know that if they perform well at youth and league level, they will be given a chance, and they can see that the county side is not a closed shop."
The ECB is trying to encourage Minor Counties teams to select younger players, with counties rewarded financially for fielding sides with an average age of under 26.
Hall admits the introduction of the scheme in 2006 had an effect on his county's selection policy, and believes they have benefitted as a result.
"There is obviously a financial incentive to field youngsters, and it's something that we as a county have decided to adhere to," he added.
"It's actually helped us because it's encouraged us to put the young lads in, and they've gone on to do very well.
"The likes of Warren Goodwin, James Duffy and Danny Woods have taken their opportunities, and they will be looking to step up to the plate and deliver consistent performances this season."
Although Hall is keen to promote the case of his younger players, he is aware of the need for older heads within the side.
Seasoned all-rounder Jason Whitaker continues to play a key role - he made 52 and took 2-8 in Sunday's victory over Shropshire - while Nathan Dumelow and Ben Spendlove, who were instrumental in last year's success, have first-class experience at Derbyshire.
"There's definitely still a place in Minor Counties cricket for experienced former first-class players, as the younger lads can learn an awful lot from them," said Hall.
"If I think back to 1992 when I made my debut for Cheshire, it was great to play alongside the likes of Geoff Miller as he had succeeded at the highest level.
"We have a couple of ex-Derbyshire players in our side, and while they're not old, their experience of county cricket is a big help to the younger players.
"It's all about striking the right balance between youth and experience, and I like to think that we manage it quite well."
Hall acknowledges it will be difficult for his players to match the achievements of last season, but he is confident that they have the ability to challenge for honours once again.
"It will obviously be very difficult for us to win the Eastern Division again, but you have to aim high, and we've got confidence in our squad," he said.
"We will look to play good, positive cricket throughout the season and perform as well as we did in the big moments of games last year.
"We know the other teams will be out to stop us, but hopefully we can go one better than in 2007."