Season review 3: Western Division Championship

Season review 3: Western Division Championship

1 Oct 2023

Since the three day championship season switched to four rather than six games in 2021, it's been clear that early success is vital.

In 2022 Cheshire sat bottom of the table after two games but dramatically turned things round with 'against the odds' performances. Things can change very quickly. Especially if once again the weather doesn't play ball, and other sides are more fortunate...

Cheshire v Herefordshire, Alderley Edge CC, 23-25 July

For the third time in recent years, Alderley Edge saw three days of poor weather. Not a ball was bowled.

There was an outside chance of play late on the third morning but David Wainwright - the 2023 skipper - was left kicking his heels with an exciting team that included Owen Feakes from Flowery Fields, due to make this debut behind the stumps after impressing in the second eleven. With play possible in other games, Cheshire were already on the back foot.

Berkshire v Cheshire, Finchampstead CC, 6-8 August

If the KO Trophy game at Didsbury against Cambridgeshire had been the highlight of the season to date, this wasn't far off. Until rain washed out the last day that is.

Reigning champions Berkshire, who rarely if ever lose at Finchampstead and had been dramatically turned over by Cheshire a year earlier at Nantwich, were staring down the barrel in this one.

Cheshire amassed 381 in their first innings (Luke Young 51, Joe Cook 53, Henry Dobson 70, Chris Sanders 80). Andy Jackson (5-60) and Chris Sanders (3-32) then tore into the home side to dismiss them for 174.

Opting against the follow-on, Cheshire then blasted 261-8 with Henry Dobson making 121 and Luke Young 52. Berkshire closed day two at 75-3 needing another 394 runs to win.

How frustrating then was the last day as different start times failed to materialise and the game was abandoned.

Two down, two to go. A win at Berkshire would have parachuted Cheshire to one of the favourites to be champions!

Cheshire v Devon, Chester Boughton Hall CC, 13-15 August

Having won the toss at Chester and then watched Devon pile up 423-9 (Steve Green 5-99), Cheshire slumped to 18-3 by the close of the first day.

Come day two and enter the rain Gods, stage left. No play.

Devon sensed an unlikely challenge for the title and Cheshire, still feeling hard done by at Berkshire, took up the gauntlet of a contrived third day arrangement that saw them scamper to 73-3 from 'declaration bowling'. 

Devon forfeited their second innings and while accepting the chase (351 required) may have been a gamble, it sparked a tremendous final day's play. 

At 114-6, Cheshire were dead and buried but Alex Money and Dave Wainwright had other ideas as they added 152 for the seventh wicket. Money inspired and gave real hope with his 102, Wainwright playing the perfect foil. 

Once Money had gone though, the innings folded for 316 leaving Wainwright high and dry on 67 and a smiling Matt Skeemer to reflect on 6-41. Devon won by 34 runs.

So suddenly Cheshire were staring at relegation, so were Devon ... except they could win the title too, as could Oxfordshire.

Oxfordshire v Cheshire, Banbury CC, 20-22 August

All to play for and more than an eye on Devon against Herefordshire.

Not a great start for toss-winning Cheshire who were bowled out for 170 on a difficult pitch. Joe Cook fell just short of his first ton for the club, out for 96.

With the hosts ending day one on 130-1, the writing was on the wall for Cheshire. Somehow though, things turned dramatically with a morning fightback. 

The spinners took command. Steve Green grabbed 4-77 and Dave Wainwright 3-31 to bowl Oxfordshire out for 233, leading by 63. 

Work to do, and Cheshire did it. By the close of the second day, they'd reached 247-4 to lead by 184 runs.

Day three saw further progress but it was still nip and tuck with the Devon game. Word had come through that Herefordshire had lost points too due to a slow over rate so it really was all to play for. A win would see things through though, regardless. 

Cheshire closed on 363, opting against a declaration. Bizarely, Joe Cook was out for 99 having made 96 first time round. Henry Dobson made 76 and Chris Sanders (41) applied some late order fireworks to set Oxfordshire 301.

Nothing was settled in either game at tea but Cheshire had their tails up and Oxfordshire's title challenge was over. Following his 4-77 in the first innings, Steve Green was on fire to take 6-73 (10-150 in the match) and Dave Wainwright 3-30 as Oxfordshire fell to 227 all out to lose by 73 runs. Devon had taken the title and relegated Herefordshire.  

It could all have been so different if Cheshire had played their first game etc ... but that's the vagries of three day cricket. And you can't say it wasn't exciting.