By Neil Goulding
CHESHIRE closed their Minor Counties cricket season with defeat to Shropshire.
The defending champions went down by 210 runs at Whitchurch in a rain-affected clash.
But having won their last two matches, the manner of the defeat was particularly hard to swallow for Andy Hall and his charges.
Skipper Hall said: "I'm very disappointed because we didn't give ourselves a chance of victory.
"We batted poorly and all the players know we should have done much better."
With the first day's play washed out due to heavy rain, play on the second day only started mid-afternoon.
Having lost the toss, Cheshire saw Shropshire insert themselves and race to a commanding 351-6 over night from just 75 overs.
Cheshire used nine bowlers, many of whom were not regulars, before both captain's agreed to forfeit an innings to make sure there was a chance of a result in the match.
Hall allowed Cheshire to forfeit their first innings, while Shropshire didn't bat second time around, just leaving last year's Western Division winners to bat.
Shropshire added a further 39 runs in 6.3 overs on the morning of the final day, leaving Cheshire needing a mammoth 391 to win.
And although the JW Lees-sponsored Cheshire side have plenty of batting, the target never looked on after the loss of quick wickets and skipper Hall for a golden duck.
Seasoned all-rounder Jason Whittaker top-scored with a defiant 50 as Cheshire looked to save the game, but when the Walshaw ace was dismissed, all hopes of a draw diminshed.
Promising youngster Oliver Sadler (38) and Chris Finegan (21) chipped in with useful contributions, but the damage had already been done as Shropshire moved four places up the table and Cheshire dropped three having only managed to pick up three points.
"It's disappointing to lose in the manner we did, but there have been plenty of positives this season," added Hall.
"A lot of young players have impressed me and the senior players have performed as well.
"It was always going to be really difficult to win the Minor Counties title this season because we lost a lot of players, but we've won two games and had two games abandoned when we were in winning positions. It could have been a lot different."
Cheshire's first innings wicket-takers were Jonathan Farrow (2-89), Whittaker (1-73), Finnegan (1-69), Woods (1-69) and Cantello (1-2).
Scorecard - Minor Counties 3-Day Championship, Whitchurch
Shropshire 1st innings: (351-6 overnight, 75 overs) 390-7 declared, 81.3 overs (J Ralph 72, J Farrow 2-89)
Cheshire 1st innings: Forfeited
Shropshire 2nd innings: Forfeited
Cheshire 2nd innings: 180 all out (J Whittaker 50, O Sadler 38, C Finnegan 21, J Whitney 5-66)
Result: Shropshire (23pts) bt Cheshire (3pts) by 210 runs
CHESHIRE EYE STRONG FINISH By Neil Goulding
DEFENDING Minor Counties champions Cheshire have named a strong team ahead of their final three-day match of the season, away to Shropshire at Whitchurch Cricket Club (20-22 August). There are two chances to Andy Hall's team with experienced all-rounders Chris Finnegan and Jason Whittaker both selected, while seam bowlers Guy Emmett and Barney Cutbill make way. Finegan and Whittaker have both struggled with availability this season, but both are available as Cheshire go for their third successive win and a strong finish to the season. Hall's men snatched a dramatic six runs win over Wales Minor Counties at Swansea CC earlier this month having also beaten Herefordshire at Alderley Edge CC at the back end of July.
"We've played really well in our last two games, so it would great if we can continue that form and take into the Shropshire match," said Hall.
"It's great to have Jason and Chris back in the side. Barney and Guy have done a good job for us, but Jason and Chris offer us something different because they are both strong batsmen, as well as good bowlers."
Nantwich young gun Oliver Sadler keeps his place in the team having impressed on debut with a knock of 61 against Herefordshire, while left-arm spinner Danny Woods (Hyde) retains his place after some excellent performances with the ball in both of the JW Lees-sponsored Cheshire side's ast two macthes.
"We've got some good young players in this season," added Hall, whose side are fourth in the Western Division and cannot retain their title this season.
"It was always going to be really hard to defend the title, but we're building for the future, and in the next couple of years I can see us winning the Championship again."
Cheshire's record this season has yielded two wins, two draw and just one defeat. But rain, which ended hopes of victory in their opening two matches, eventually stumped them in their quest to win back-to-back titles. Devon have already won the Western Division having won all five of their matches this season.
JW Lees-sponsored Cheshire team: Andy Hall, Nick Cantello, Matt Dawson (Bramhall); Danny Leech, Nathan Dumelow (Oulton Park); Oliver Sadler (Nantwich); James Duffy, Danny Woods (Hyde); Jason Whittaker (Walshaw); Chris Finnegan (Neston); John Farrow (Heaton Mersey). 12th man: Chris Davies (Oxton). Scorer: Janet Herbert.