By Neil Goulding
CHESHIRE all-rounder Jason Whittaker has already had a season
Making the jump from league cricket to Minor Counties level is not easy and for most players it takes time to adjust to the pressure and skill require to compete against top quality cricketers.
And for Whittaker that waiting period seems to be over. The proof was none more significant than against last year's Western Division champions Herefordshire at Chester Boughton Hall last month.
The Bolton-born ace finished with career-best figures of 7-31 from 12 overs and also smashed an unbeaten 49 to achieve a top score for both of the county's.
It's Whittaker's third season with Cheshire, but now he is starting to repay the faith the county's selectors have shown in him.
His success has spurred the former school teacher to shine some more for his county as they strive for a place in this year's Championship Final.
However, with Berkshire winning in the last over of their match with Wiltshire the job has just been made that little bit harder.
"It's out of our hands now," admitted Whittaker, who started playing his cricket for Little Lever in the Bolton League. "All we can do now is win and hope that Berkshire come unstuck against Devon in their last match. Devon are also up there, so we have to be glad they are playing a strong team."
Indeed, the J W Lees Cheshire side must win their last game if they are to catch their fellow title-rivals at the top of the table.
And Whittaker is hoping to come good again with the bat and the ball.
"There is a jump from league cricket to Minor Counties level," said Whittaker, "so I was happy with the way I performed at Chester. I've not been bowling too well this season, so to get seven wickets was a real achievement for me.
"I also managed to get runs with the bat, which was nice, because it was a difficult pitch to bat on. I grew up playing on green wickets in Bolton which seamed around, and I knew I just had to be patient and work for my runs. You have to do that at Minor Counties cricket because the bowlers are usually a lot more experienced. At club cricket you can get settled quickly because you can often get a loose delivery to put away, but that doesn't happen so much at this level."
But, even facing a string of former first-class cricketers hasn't stopped Whittaker proving his worth for his team.
And he admits that having fellow club mates in the side has been a big help, as well as the experience of Dave Pennett, who has played at the top level before.
Whittaker plays for Oulton Park in the Murray Smith Accountants Cheshire County League and he has been joined this year by no fewer than four other players from the Little Budworth club.
Opening batsman Danny Leech, bowlers Chris Jones and Stewart Eaton, along with wicketkeeper Mike Bentham, have all been selected for their county.
"It's great to have some of your teammates in the side," admitted Whittaker, "but all the lads are brilliant. Even though we play six or seven games a year the spirit is brilliant. It stems from having players you know and also someone like Dave Pennett coming into the side. He's a born winner and he has helped with his advice and experience. This is just right - we've got a great set of lads.
"Last year we struggled because we didn't have a consistent side, but this year selection has been a lot better. It's very important to have a settled team, because you know what people are capable of. We socialise off the pitch as well, which is very important. We are going to take that morale into the last game of the season against Shropshire and if we play well, hopefully get a win."
Victory for Cheshire would cap-off a memorable season, which has seen them not lose a game in the Western Division.
And for Whittaker, who will be spending the winter playing for Gordon Cricket Club in Australia, the match is a perfect way of finishing the season on a high note - for himself and the team.
"We haven't got anything to lose," added Whittaker. "We are confident of our own ability, so all we can do is try our best. If we win then we just have to wait ann see what happens. To make it to the Championship final would be great. I played for the team in 2001 when we got there - so to get there again would be excellent for us."