CHESHIRE Cricket Committee chairman Gerry Hardstaff can’t wait for the start of the new Minor Counties season.

And before a ball has even been bowled Hardstaff has revealed that he and his county have secured the services of yet another former First Class player. Former Lancashire batsman Mark Currie is to play for Cheshire this season having been released by the Red Rose county. Currie is back playing his cricket in Cheshire this year and will captain Alderley Edge in the Murray Smith Accountants Cheshire County League ECB Premier Division.

Hardstaff hopes Currie will also have a big impact for Cheshire and be a welcome addition to strengthen his county’s middle order, an area of weaknesses in previous seasons, especially with the loss of stalwart Richard Hignett in 2003-2004. “Mark has said he will play, which is great,” said Hardstaff. “We’d heard he might be released by Lancashire, but we had to wait and see what happened with his contract. When he was released we had to get him to play.”Indeed, but Currie will not be performing for the first time for Cheshire, for the talented youngster played for the county four times in the 2001- 2002 season, averaging an impressive 47 with 188 runs which included a high score of 94.“Mark’s played for us a few times before and done well, but he’s been playing for Lancashire and developing as a player,” added Hardstaff.

”Cheshire have once again retained the services of Dave Pennett, the former Nottinghamshire pace bowler who was the leading wicket-taker last year with 20 scalps. He will be the team’s other professional alongside Archer. Currie is not considered a professional because he did not play enough games for Lancashire to warrant that status, although he did play for the first team on a few occasions.

However, Hardstaff also revealed that former Hampshire all-rounder Simon Renshaw will not be employed as a professional, although he has been offered the chance to still play for the team.“Simon didn’t have the best of years last year, but he’s still a very good player and we would like him to play for us.

“We can only have two professional players, so we’ve decided on Graeme and Dave. Graeme was superb last season and Dave was excellent with the ball. "Dave is the type of player any team would want. He’s a fighter and never gives up. He’s a good player to have in the side because he’s got lots of experience.”

Andy Hall will captain Cheshire again this season, his third season in charge, with opportunities available for young and promising cricketers to force their way into the team. “It’s a big jump from club cricket to Minor Counties cricket, a lot of players get found out quickly and teams’ work on their weakness, but we are always looking for new, young players. “Danny Jones came into the side last year and did well, and we gave a lot of other players a chance. Some met the standard, others didn’t. “Tom Young at Hyde is a good player, so he might get a chance, and then there’s Jon Farrow from Heaton Mersey. Both of them could feature this year.” Farrow, a quick bowler, has been released from a scholarship with Worcestershire, so will have something to prove in the Cheshire County League this season. “John used to play for Bridgewater in the Birmingham League and he did well for them. He’s also played for Worcester 2nds, so he’s obviously a good player. We’ll be looking to see how he performs this year.”Left-arm spinner Robin Fisher, Cheshire’second leading wicket-taker last year with 19 victims, will be available to play although he is currently recovering from surgery on a knee-injury.“Robin did very well last year, but we are still looking for another spin bowler. Neil Cross won’t be available much again this season because of work commitments, so the door is open for a good spinner to come in and get in the team. “We need regular players, so if people want to play this year we want the commitment from them.”Mobberley batsman Nafees Din has proven his ability to adapt to the daunting Minor Counties arena, but there is once again a question mark over the right-hander’s availability.

Cheshire, who finished seventh in the Western Division after a promising start which had yielded high hopes of at least a top-3 finish, open their account against Herefordshire between June 5-7, away at Luctonians.A 2nd Round MCCA Knockout Trophy clash with Wales at Nantwich, a new ground for the county this season, follows with Hall’s men hopeful of progressing further than the quarter finals stages. Cheshire have been there twice in the last two seasons but failed to go any further.

Cheshire fixtures Minor Counties Western Division 2005-2006 season

June 5-7 v Herefordshire (Lutonians CC)
June 12 v Wales (Nantwich) MCCA Knockout Cup 2nd Round
June 20-22 v Cornwall (Alderley Edge)
July 3-5 v Devon (Bovey Tracey)
July 17-19 v Wiltshire (Trowbridge)
August 7-9 v Oxfordshire (Nantwich)
August 21-23 v Wales (Chester Boughton Hall)

Cheshire averages 2004-2005 season

Batting:
Graeme Archer 108.50 (434 runs)
Danny Leech 43.00 (430 runs)
Jason Whittaker 41.40 (207 runs)
Neil Cross 40.00 (80 runs)
Alexis Twigg 37.90 (379 runs)
Andy Hall 37.50 (300 runs)

Bowling (wickets):
Dave Pennett 20 (best 6-73)
Robin Fisher 19 (best 4-37)
Jason Whittaker 12 (best 3-21)
Danny Jones 8 (best 3-58)
Simon Renshaw 7 (best 4-59)

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