'Neil Goulding looks back at Cheshire's 2005/6 season as Andy Hall's team bridged unchartered waters on the way to the Minor Counties Championship final'.

Herefordshire v Cheshire (Luctionians, Kingston, June 5-7)

FORMER England and Lancashire leg-spinning all-rounder Chris Schofield made his debut for Cheshire in their first Championship game of the 2005-6 season.

And what a debut the ex-Red Rose man had! The left-hander smashed a brilliant hundred as Cheshire batted first on a tricky pitch at Luctonians, making 334 all out in 82 overs. All-rounder Jason Whittaker (73), skipper Andy Hall (50) and former Nottinghamshire professional (45 not out) were also in the runs.

The hosts responded with 140-3 after the first day, but slumped to 205 all out after Cheshire took control. Spinners Nathan Dumelow (4-42), Schofield (3-50) and left-armer Robin Fisher (2-19) did the damage.

Schofield was in the runs again in Cheshire's second innings with a quickfire half-century, while former Old Trafford teammate Mark Currie (71) and Hall (56) helped the visitors reach 284-9 declared from 60 overs, a lead of 414.

Having lost four wickets for just 87 runs at the end of the second day, the home county were rolled over for 202 in their second innings.

Dumelow claimed 5-54 for match figures of 9-96, breaking a ten-year-old record set by fast bowler Nigel Peel when, in 1995 against Herefordshire at Dale, he finished with match figures of 9-98.
Fisher, with a 3-50 return, also played a key roll as Cheshire triumphed by 211 runs and with half a day to spare.

Cheshire team: Andy Hall (Bramhall); Mark Currie (Alderley Edge); James Duffy (Hyde), Nathan Dumelow, Danny Jones (Oulton Park); Steve Ogilby, Robin Fisher (Chester Boughton Hall); Chris Schofield (Littleborough); Jason Whittaker (Walshaw); Dave Pennett, Alexis Twigg (Harrogate). 12th man: Tom Young (Hyde).

Cheshire v Wales Minor Counties (Nantwich, June 12)

CHESHIRE suffered heartache in the MCCA Knockout Cup, with Andy Hall's team having reached the quarter-finals for the last two seasons.

A one-wicket defeat to Wales at Nantwich, hosting their first Minor Counties fixture, was hard to swallow, but ultimately some bad batting cost Cheshire dear.

Hall's men were coasting at 50 for no wicket having won the toss and elected to bat, but eight wickets fell for just 79 runs and the hosts were in danger of being routed for under 150.

But thanks to top-scorer Jason Whittaker (33) and 27 from opener Mark Currie, Cheshire posted 180, being dismissed with seven balls left from their allotted 50 overs.

However, some fine bowling from Whittaker (3-16), debutant Tom Young (2-32) - a fast left-arm bowler from Hyde - and off-spinner Nathan Dumelow (2-32) gave Cheshire the chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

But from having the visitors reeling at 106-8, Cheshire somehow let their opponents off the hook and thanks to an inspired knock of 86 not out from Glamorgan squad player Ben Wright, triumphed with 13 balls to spare.

Cheshire team: Andy Hall (Bramhall); Mark Currie (Alderley Edge); Tom Young (Hyde); Nathan Dumelow, (Oulton Park); Steve Ogilby, Robin Fisher (Chester Boughton Hall); Chris Schofield (Littleborough); Jason Whittaker (Walshaw); Dave Pennett, Alexis Twigg (Harrogate); Neil Cross (Oxton).

Cheshire v Cornwall (Alderley Edge, June 20-22)

CHESHIRE drew their second Championship match of the season, claiming nine points against Cornwall, with their opponents taking 12 points at Alderley Edge.

But having had their backs against the wall in the leafy suburbs where many Manchester United players live, Nathan Dumelow nearly inspired a dramatic victory.

Chris Schofield continued his fine start to the campaign with a typically aggressive 85 as Cheshire batted first and made a modest 241 all out having won the toss on a good batting pitch.

Cornwall got on top thanks to a wonderful 150 from ex-Northants ace Tony Penberthy and 137 from former Somerset batsman Neil Edwards, allowing the visitors to total an imposing 434-8 from their allotted 90 overs.

Schofield (3-80) and Robin Fisher (2-98) were the pick of Cheshire's bowlers, before Andy Hall's team batted with great spirit in the second innings.

Dumelow led the way with a brilliant unbeaten 114, well-aided by Hall (57) as Cheshire reached an excellent 364, leaving a target of 172 in 23 overs.

It proved too tall an order virtually from the start as off-spinner Dumelow came to the fore again, this time with the ball.

He finished with four victims for just two runs off four overs and with Walshaw's Jason Whittaker chipping in with three wickets, Cornwall faced an unlikely defeat.

"We had about 15 balls at their numbers nine and 10," said Hall. "But if someone had given me a draw at start of play I would have jumped at the chance.

Cheshire team: Andy Hall (Bramhall); Mark Currie (Alderley Edge); James Duffy (Hyde), Nathan Dumelow, Danny Jones (Oulton Park); Steve Ogilby, Robin Fisher (Chester Boughton Hall); Chris Schofield (Littleborough); Jason Whittaker (Walshaw); Alexis Twigg (Harrogate); Adam Wildig (Alderley Edge).

Devon v Cheshire (Bovey Tracey, July 3-5)

CHESHIRE were forced to settle for a draw after heavy rain halted their chances of springing a victory against Devon at Bovey Tracey.

With new signing Matthew Cassar (ex Northants and Derbyshire all-rounder) in their side, replacing the unavailable Chris Schofield, Cheshire batted first and posted 249 in their first innings.

Cassar shone on debut with 67, with Nathan Dumelow (43) and another debutant, Warren Goodwin (42) in the runs.

Then it was the turn of fast bowler Dave Pennett to star with the ball. The former Notts seamer grabbed a hat-trick and Barney Cutbill (2-8) was in the wickets as well, with Devon slumping to 78-6 at the close of play on day one.

Devon were eventually dismissed for 181 on the second day, with youngsters Danny Jones and Guy Emmett taking two wickets each as Cheshire held a lead of 68 runs, having been 92-8 at one stage.

Cheshire then staggered to 174 all out in their second innings. Goodwin (37) and opener Danny Leech (31) the pick of the visitors' batsmen as they left the hosts with a victory target of 243 on the final day.

But despite the match being finely poised, the heavens opened and the Bovey Tracey pitch was a washout, Cheshire shading the points 10/9.

Cheshire team: Andy Hall (capt, Bramhall); Matthew Cassar (Ochbrock & Borrowash); Nathan Dumelow, Danny Jones, Danny Leech (Oulton Park); Matthew Dawson (wkt kpr, Milnrow); Warren Goodwin (Chester Boughton Hall); Alexis Twigg, Dave Pennett (Harrogate); Barney Cutbill (Macclesfield); Guy Emmett (Bowdon).

Cheshire v Wiltshire (Trowbridge, July 17-19)

HAVING won one and drawn two of their opening Championship fixtures, Andy Hall's team put themselves in a strong position to win the Western Division with a crushing win away to Wiltshire.

Despite being plagued a string of injuries and late withdrawals against Cornwall in their third Championship match, Chris Schofield returned to the fray, as did all-rounder Jason Whittaker, Robin Fisher and first-choice wicketkeeper Stephen Ogilby.

Wiltshire won the toss and were pegged back, restricted to 215 all out. Nathan Dumelow (4-51) and Schofield (4-49) did the damage with the ball, before an unbeaten 64 from Andy Hall and unbeaten 48 from Danny Leech saw Cheshire reach a 129-1 at stumps after day one.

Some fine batting on the second day saw Cheshire take control on day, amassing 334 all out for a healthy lead of 119. Dumelow (79) and Schofield (70) the main contributors, while Leech finished with his first half-century of the season.

Wiltshire then crumbled to 120-6 from the remaining 55 overs of the day as Cheshire closed in on victory.

Victory was not far away on the final day's play, with Dave Pennett (5-54) and Whittaker (4-39) on fire with the ball as Wiltshire added just 36 runs to their overnight score.

Needing 38 for victory Cheshire coasted to 24 points and enhanced their charge for the domestic title.

Cheshire team: Andy Hall (Bramhall, captain); Mark Currie (Alderley Edge); Danny Leech, Danny Jones, Nathan Dumelow (Oulton Park); Chris Schofield (Littleborough); Warren Goodwin, Steve Ogilby, Robin Fisher (Chester Boughton Hall); Dave Pennett (Harrogate); Jason Whittaker (Walshaw).

Cheshire v Oxfordshire (Nantwich, August 7-9)

CHESHIRE tasted their third win of the season and laid the perfect platform for a place in the Minor Counties Championship final with a convincing victory over Oxfordshire at Nantwich.

Playing their second match of the season at Nantwich, having played Wales in the MCCA Knockout earlier in the year, Cheshire batted first and posted an excellent 313 all out.

Nathan Dumelow (107) and debutant Nick Cantello (82) the top run-getters, before Oxfordshire slipped to 89-6 overnight.

Dave Pennett (5-71) and Jason Whittaker (4-72) starred with the ball as Oxfordshire were dismissed for 176, but at 111-9 it looked as though the visitors would have to follow-on.

Skipper Andy Hall then led from the front with an excellent 106 as Cheshire made 227 in their second innings, which should have been a lot more if the home side had not lost their last five wickets for 22 runs.

But a victory target of 365 was always going to make life difficult for Oxfordshire. They reached 176-5 in the remaining 46 overs of the day, but were all out for 240.

Pennett (5-45) gave himself match figures of 10-116 as Cheshire took 23 points to Oxfordshire's five points, putting them in a very strong position to win the Western Division title.

Cheshire team: Andy Hall (captain, Bramhall); Nathan Dumelow, Danny Jones (Oulton Park); Mark Currie (Alderley Edge); Chris Schofield (Littleborough); Steve Ogilby, Robin Fisher (Chester Boughton Hall); Jason Whittaker (Walshaw); Dave Pennett (Harrogate); Nick Cantello (Heaton Mersey); Matthew Dawson (Milnrow). 12th man: Guy Emmett (Bowdon).

Cheshire v Wales MC (Chester Boughton Hall, 21-23 August)

CHESHIRE had plenty to smile about as they won the Western Division title for the first time in four years with a dramatic draw on the last day of their three-day clash with Wales.

Wales batted first and posted 259 all out, with Nathan Dumelow (5-52) and Chris Schofield (3-80) were the pick of Cheshire's bowlers, before the home side finished on 66-3 at the end of the day.

Andy Hall then made a sporting declaration on 227-9 with Nick Cantello crashing 110 not out, leaving them 32 runs behind their opponents.

Wales were then dismissed for 207 in their second innings. Dumelow (5-87) - finishing with impressive match figures of 10-139 - and Schofield (5-88), leaving him with cumulative figures of 8-168, led the way with the ball.

Cheshire, needing 240 from just 33 overs, then went desperately close knowing that a draw might not be enough with fellow title-rivals Berkshire possible champions if they won their final Championship match.

Opener Danny Leech batted superbly for 88 from 92 balls, while Hall weighed in with 59 from 43 balls to leave a nail-biting finish.

Cheshire were eventually left needing 14 from 10 balls, and then 11 runs off the last over, but fell agonisingly short on 238-7. However, Berkshire failed to win and the Western Division title was Cheshire's to celebrate.

Cheshire team: Andy Hall (captain, Bramhall); Danny Leech, Nathan Dumelow (Oulton Park); Mark Currie (Alderley Edge); Chris Schofield (Littleborough); Steve Ogilby (wicketkeeper), Robin Fisher, Alex Kegg (Chester Boughton Hall); Tom Young (Hyde); Nick Cantello (Heaton Mersey); Guy Emmett (Bowdon). 12th man: Warren Goodwin (Chester
Boughton Hall).

Suffolk v Cheshire (Ransomes, Ipswich, 11-13 September)
CHESHIRE shared the Minor Counties Championship title with Suffolk after an enthralling last day at the Ransomes Sports Ground in Ipswich
Andy Hall's team trailed by 42 runs overnight, but soon found their feet with a solid batting display which assured there was no danger they would lose the final.
Having mustered 148 in their first innings, Cheshire did decidedly better in their second innings.
Hall's men batted for nearly three sessions to post 279 all out - a lead of 226.
In order to win Suffolk had to score at over 14 runs per over, with only 16.2 overs at their disposal.
Victory was never on the cards despite having some dangerous batsmen and both captains did the gentlemanly act - they shook hands and shared the title before Suffolk started their second innings.
Hall, who led his team to six matches unbeaten to reach the final, led the way with an impressive knock of 61 from 108 balls, an innings which included 8 fours and lasted 108 minutes.
Nathan Dumelow, one of Cheshire's star performers this season, continued his fine form with the bat, scoring 80 from 120 balls.
The former Derbyshire all-rounder was dropped having scored nine, a miss which proved costly as Cheshire would have been left struggling at 101-6.
However, Dumelow didn't let that deter him from going on to guide Cheshire to safety.
The powerful right-hander went on to hit 13 fours and his innings, which lasted over two hours, was probably one of the most important he has played for his county in his debut season.
Added to his three wickets in the first innings, it was fitting the talented all-rounder scooped the man-of-the-match award.
Former Nottinghamshire all-rounder Dave Pennett chipped in with a useful 26 before a wonderful catch from Tim Webley, off the bowling of Andrew McGarry, the ex-Essex seamer, saw him dimissed. By then Cheshire were in a comfortable position.
Earlier opening batsman Danny Leech battled for 3 hours 7 minutes to score 27, an innings which took an astonishing 147 balls.
At 124-1 at lunch the J W Lees-sponsored Cheshire side still had plenty of work to do, just 71 runs ahead.
With a lead of 168, with four wickets and 33 overs remaining, a victory for either side was still on the cards, but Cheshire refused to give their hosts a sniff and shared the title for the second time in four years.
In 2001, when Hall was playing under captain Ian Cockbain, Cheshire drew with Lincolnshire at Grantham after their opponents batted them out of the match.
"It was always going to be difficult to win the match with the first day being washed out because of rain," said Hall, who saw his side lose four wickets for 11 runs in seven overs, a wobble which made sure they had to bat on.
"But it's a great achievement sharing the title this season. We're undefeated and although it would have been much more special to win the title outright, we've battled for everything this season.
"I'm so proud of all the players. We've got the nucleus of a team which can be very successful for the next few years."
Indeed. A view echoed by Gerry Hardstaff, Cheshire's chairman of cricket, who added: "We've rebuilt this team and so it's very satisfying to see us do so well after all the hard work from everyone associated with Cheshire cricket, especially the players who have performed magnificently.
"We were never really in a position to declare and to give ourselves a chance of bowling Suffolk out, so we had to make sure we didn't lose.
"It's been a long, hard season and we've been unbeaten, which is a hell of an achievement. Hopefully there's many more successful years to come."
Hardstaff also paid special praise to skipper Hall and Dumelow.
"Andy and Nathan batted very well just when we needed them," said Hardstaff. "It's been that way all season and I'm delighted for them both and the rest of the players.
"Andy has been building a better side and Nathan is one of those new players. He deserves his man-of-the-match award. He's played well in this match, but all season as well."