By Neil Goulding (Cheshire Press Officer, 07813 859986)

Scorecard from Falmouth

ANDY Hall, the Cheshire captain, is relishing the start of the new Minor Counties Cricket Association (MCCA) Championship season on Sunday. Cheshire start their three-day MCCA Championship Western Division campaign away to Cornwall at Falmouth Cricket Club from 7-9 June. And Hall knows that his side face a tough opener against opponents who also challenged for the Western Division title last season.

"We played Cornwall in the last game of last season, they're a good all-round side," said Hall.

"It's a tough start to the season for us, especially because it's a long trip down there for us to kick things off.

"But we've got a strong team ourselves and all the players want to perform to help us get a win."

Cheshire needed to beat Cornwall in their last three-day match last season to clinch the Western Division title. But the five-time Championship winners were denied as Cornwall held on for a draw at Nantwich Cricket Club - and the result allowed Berkshire to pinch the Western Division title by one point.

"Missing out on the title by just a point last season was really hard to take, but that's gone now and we've got the chance to make sure we win the Western Division title this season and hopefully get into another Championship final," added Hall.

"The talent is there, the nucleus of our team has probably been the same for the last three years, which I think is important. It's good to have consistency, this squad have been very successful in the three-day format over the last few seasons.

"But we also know that we have to perform. We've had a disappointing one-day series leading up to the Championship and we've got areas to improve on."

Cheshire won two of their four qualifying matches in the MCCA Knockout Trophy, but two defeats cost them the chance to progress to the quarter-finals of the competition which culminates in a showcase final at Durham's Chester-le-Street ground last this season. But Hall stressed: "Our batting has let us down, even in the two games which we won. We've struggled and we know we can't afford any batting collapses in the three-day game, you usually get punished if that happens.

"But we're confident we can be successful this season, it's going to be important to start strongly and get a couple of wins under our belts.

"Historically if you win four of your six matches then you'll be there or thereabouts in the running for title, but you don't want to start the season with a defeat because then you're under pressured straight away.

"If everyone's playing well then we know we can go to Cornwall and get a good result. It's a tough opener, but we're confident if we perform."

Cheshire are boosted by the return of Oulton Park duo Danny Leech and Ben Spendlove. Opening batsman Leech missed last Sunday's two-wicket Knockout Trophy win over Bedfordshire at Marple Cricket Club due to work commitments. County and club teammate Spendlove missed the fixture with a back-injury, but both players will travel to Falmouth. Alderley Edge all-rounder Jason Whittaker is unavailable because of work and is replaced by Neston all-rounder Chris Finegan. Finegan impressed last season against Cornwall with a fine 10-153 match return as Cheshire went agonisingly close to winning another title. Neston's David Hurst, a late replacement for Spendlove, and Oulton Park's Rick Moore, who opened the batting in place of Leech, also both miss out this time. However, Hyde all-rounder Rob Woolley will make his Championship debut having impressed in the Bedfordshire win at Marple.

Cheshire team: Danny Leech (Oulton Park), Warren Goodwin (Chester Boughton Hall), Andy Hall (Bramhall, captain), Ben Spendlove (Oulton Park), James Duffy (Hyde), Nathan Dumelow (Oulton Park), Chris Finegan (Neston), Matthew Dawson (Bramhall, wicketkeeper), Daniel Berry (Hyde), Adam Syddall (Bowdon), Rob Woolley (Hyde). 12th man: TBC. Scorer: Janet Herbert


Pictured: Cheshire opener Danny Leech returns for the start of the Championship campaign

By Neil Goulding (Cheshire Press Officer, 07813 859986)

CHESHIRE are boosted by the return of two of last season's leading county run-scorers ahead for their first match of the Minor Counties Cricket Association (MCCA) Championship.

Opening batsman Danny Leech (left) and former Derbyshire all-rounder Ben Spendlove, both of whom play for Oulton Park, make a welcome return having missed their county's two-wicket MCCA Knockout Trophy win over Bedofordshire last Sunday.

Leech missed out because of work commitments and Spendlove was absent because of a back injury, but both return for the opening match of the three-day season away to Cornwall at Falmouth Cricket Club, 7-9 June.

"It's good to have Danny and Ben back, they are both important players in our team," said Cheshire skipper Andy Hall.

"Danny and Ben both scored a lot of runs for us last season, they're both experienced and proven performers at this level."

Indeed. Last season Spendlove finished an impressive fifth in the Championship averages with 628 runs, more runs than any other player with an equally commendable average of 62.80.

And it also proved to be a good season for left-hander Leech as he finished tenth in the final standings with 449 runs at an average of 56.13.

However, while Leech and Spendlove return, all-rounder Jason Whittaker is out because of work commitments. The Alderley Edge ace took three wickets in the Bedfordshire victory, but Neston's Chris Finegan is likely to prove an able replacement.

Last time Cheshire played Cornwall last season, Finegan starred with a superb 10-153 match return.

Hyde all-rounder Rob Woolley will also make his Championship debut for Cheshire having been given the chance to prove his ability in the longer format of the county game.

"I thought James came in and did a really good job against Bedfordshire," added Hall. "But to be honest none of the young players have looked out of place, they've all come in and done a good job.

"The team spirit has been great these last few seasons - and I think that has helped our performances. All the players play there cricket in Cheshire, which I think is important for the county team.

"We get to play against each other in the league and we all get on. If everyone is playing well then we know we're going to be a strong side to beat.

"It's important we start the season strongly and get off to the best possible start. That way it gives us something to build on."

Cheshire team: Danny Leech (Oulton Park), Warren Goodwin (Chester Boughton Hall), Andy Hall (Bramhall, captain), Ben Spendlove (Oulton Park), James Duffy (Hyde), Nathan Dumelow (Oulton Park), Chris Finegan (Neston), Matthew Dawson (Bramhall, wicketkeeper), Daniel Berry (Hyde), Adam Syddall (Bowdon), Rob Woolley (Hyde). 12th man: TBC. Scorer: Janet Herbert