CHESHIRE chairman Gerry Hardstaff has been delighted with the way his county have re-established themselves in the Minor Counties Championship Western Division.
Having experienced a tough season last year because of a lack of availability from key players, this term has seen a reversal in fortunes for Cheshire.
The county have lost only one game - a defeat against Herefordshire in the quarter finals of the MCCA Knockout Cup. And that loss was largely down to David Ward, the former Surrey batsman, who has been smashing runs for fun this season. His quickfire hundred setting the platform for Herefordshire’s win.
But apart from that Cheshire skipper Andy Hall has led his men to an impressive unbeaten run in the league, which has left them flying high near the top of the table. Not bad going for a captain only in his second year in charge of his county.
“Andy [Hall] is a lot more settled now and, all in all, we’ve had a very good year,” said Hardstaff. “We have shown signs of promise with the way we have played this year. We had a lot of problems getting players last year, but this year has been a lot better.
“We have missed a few key players, but the lads that have come in have generally done a good job.”
Indeed, this season has seen the emergence of talented batting aces Nafees Din, Danny Leech and Martyn Knight - all aged Under-23.
Din smashed a career-best 160 against Berkshire this season, as well as debut century in the first game of the year against Dorset at Oxton.
And not to be outdone Leech and Knight have both revelled at the chance to shine for their county.
Leech has worked hard for his runs this season with some valuable half-centuries, while Knight has shown his flamboyant stroke play when Cheshire have needed to put their foot on the gas in this year’s campaign. Good news for their county, according to Hardstaff.
“The young lads that have come in have done very well,” said Hardstaff. “Martyn Knight has done well in the games he played and is definitely one to keep an eye on - he’s a great prospect for the future.
“Nafees has got some big scores and Danny has shown he can get runs opening the batting, so if we can keep the nucleus of the team together, we should really benefit over the next few years.”
And Hardstaff has also been impressed with the impact Dave Pennett has had on the team. The vocal Yorkshireman has been at the heart of Cheshire’s ambitions on the pitch and certainly hasn’t been worried about voicing his opinions. And along with the advice of Hall, who continues to grow as a captain, the rest of the players have blossomed.
“Dave Pennett has made a big difference,” added Hardstaff. “The players have benefited from his experience and Andy definitely seems a lot happier this year. I don’t think he was getting the support he needed last season from senior players, but that seems to have changed this season. There’s more support for everyone on the pitch and that has helped us to do well.
“If you had said to me as the start of the season, ‘would I have been with our position this year in the league’, then I would have said ‘yes’. There’s no question we have improved and we have made some useful acquisitions. Ideally we would have loved to have bring lots more players from the Cheshire area, but we have picked the best sides at our disposal in my opinion.
“Other teams look outside their county for players and we might have to follow that trend, but the only player we have brought in from outside is Alexis Twigg [Harrogate]. We are pleased to have registered him because he looks a very accomplished opening batsman.”
However, Hardstaff has stressed that the inclusion of experienced county duo Paul Bryson and Neil Cross might have made a big difference for Cheshire this season if they had been available to play.
Bryson has not played a single game for Cheshire this term because of work commitments, while Cross has just played once because of work and time away after getting married - notably his honeymoon!
“We have missed Paul and Neil, because they are good players, but you have to get on with things. There’s no point worrying about it - we have done the best we can this year with the players that have been available.
"We were helped by the weather against Cornwall, but we could have beaten Herefordshire if it hadn’t of rained. That’s just the way it goes sometimes and I think overall we have got be pleased with our performances this season - there is plenty to build on.”

For more information contact Neil Goulding on 07931 376811