By Neil Goulding
RICHARD Hignett is one of Cheshire's most experienced players
and is delighted with the way his county have started this year's
And the added responsibility of being made the team's vice captain this season is incentive enough to pass off his enthusiasm and wealth of knowledge on the Minor Counties scene to some of the team's younger players - as well as a few of the old heads.
Hignett, who plays for Bootle in the Liverpool Competition, topped the averages for Cheshire last term scoring 367 runs at an impressive average of 73.40.
But even when he's not crashing the ball against the boundary boards, the talented 31-year-old right-hander is happy to take it upon himself to make sure the rest of the team are performing to the best of their ability.
"We have got of young lads in the side this year," said Hignett, who started his career at Widnes in the Manchester Association, "but we've also got a lot of experience. We've got to be confident with the team we've got and have a bit of fun. If you can't have a bit of fun in a three-day game then you might as well not play.
"We've got a really strong side this year and the spirit is great in the dressing room at the moment. Half the season we struggled last year because we didn't have a full side, but this season we seem to have a near perfect squad.
"I think we probably miss another spinner for a three-day game, but you can't always have the perfect combination because of availability. With the side we have got, we certainly stand a chance of winning something."
ndeed, the early signs are good for Cheshire, who tasted victory in the Western Division in the 2000-2001 season under the captaincy of Ian Cockbain.
Two wins on the trot, and in particular a thrilling victory over Northumberland in the M.C.C.A. Knockout Cup, has set the platform for Cheshire to embark on a path of honours. Added to that a hard-fought draw against Berkshire and the season has started well for Hignett's county.
And for Hignett the season couldn't have started any better, although he has yet to show what he is really capable of with the bat, apart from a well-crafted 81 in the Berkshire draw.
"We've got off to a very, very good start," said Hignett. "I was particularly impressed with our win in the cup, it was a very good victory because we showed a lot of character to come back and win because they were in the driving seat.
"I've not quite hit it off with the bat yet, but you have to take the rough with the smooth. I've not made any real runs yet, but once I'm confident if I can get a big score I can go on from there.
"I don't really know what the matter is because I've felt in decent nick, but the main thing is the team is winning.
"I set myself a target of winning six games a season for my club and I'd like to think I can help Cheshire win as many games as I can."
Hignett is no stranger to helping his county win games and last season re-wrote the record books when he and promising opener Danny Leech, now starring for Oulton Park in the Murray Smith Accountants Cheshire County League E.C.B. Premier Division, shared a wonderful partnership of 248 against Cornwall at Alderley Edge.
Leech made a brilliant 152 not out, but it was Hignett who went on to register his highest score for his county, battling his way to 183.
"That innings has to my best for Cheshire, we were in a difficult situation," admitted Hignett, "but I don't really set targets for myself anymore, I used to as a youngster, but I always want to win.
"I do put a bit more responsibility on my shoulders because I've been around a while and I think it's good to help the younger players fit in. You expect to play to a certain standard and with the blend of youth and experience we have got, we can grow as team - especially if we can keep winning."
And although Hignett is keen to keep a settled side he believes any player on the Cheshire circuit who is doing well deserves their chance to play for the county.
"Anyone whose getting runs or doing well deserves the chance to play for Cheshire," added Hignett. "Martyn Knight has come in and scored runs and Mike Bolger, who has been around for while, deserves his chance because he has scored a lot of runs.
"If there is anyone out there getting runs then they should be given an opportunity. Mike Bentham, from Oulton Park, came in for the Dorset game and played well, as did Chris Jones, who is a good spinner. It's good that these players are in the fold because it keeps the pressure on the rest of the team - it's good to be kept on your toes. Competition for places is always good in a team."
And does Hignett believe a dream trip to Lords could be on the cards?
"You can be in the final with two more wins," said Hignett, "so if we can keep our form going then there's no reason why we can't get to Lords."