Cheshire seek double at Lord's
Cheshire take on Suffolk at Lord's on Monday, with the chance to do a Minor Counties double. They head into the one-day MCCA Knock-Out final clash in high spirits after last week's draw with Shropshire, which was enough for them to win their second Western Division Championship title in three years.
In September, they will compete with Northumberland, the Eastern Division winners, for the ultimate prize in the four-day final in September - but before then they have a job to do at headquarters.
A strong Cheshire side, who have won all their one-day matches this season, have four former county players among their ranks: Ismail Dawood, the ex-Yorkshire keeper, and the former Derbyshire trio Ben Spendlove, Nathan Dumelo and Chris Bassano.
But despite such class, Dumelow - now a dairy farmer in Derbyshire - is non-committal about Cheshire's chances: "Anything can happen in a one-day match," he told Cricinfo. "The semi-final was our final; Devon are by far and away the best team in the competition."
Their captain Albert Hall, 34, who missed the semi with a fractured wrist, was quick not to write off Suffolk. "We won't be underestimating them. They're a very good side." This will be Hall's seventh match at Lord's, including three for England schoolboys. "But," he says, "that doesn't make it any less exciting." He's also in search of a first hundred there. "That would be nice, but it's more important to win the game."
Cheshire will be boosted by Chris Schofield's absence from the Suffolk line-up, despite him still being eligible; indeed, he has played some one-dayers for them already this season. "It would have been nice to see him," says Hall, "but in some ways it's a blessing in disguise!"
Schofield, who also represented Cheshire in his hiatus from first-class cricket, will play for Surrey later in the week, before heading to South Africa for the Twenty20 World Cup. While this may not be the world stage, it's still a Lord's final and Schofield is a touch disappointed to be missing out, telling Cricinfo: "It would have been good."
There are no split loyalties for him: he's backing Suffolk. "Sorry Cheshire. It's just that I played for Suffolk earlier this season and I would have played the final if I wasn't playing for Surrey in the Pro40 against Glamorgan."
The two sides have (dead-)locked horns before, in the Minor Counties Championship final in 2005 when the trophy was shared. "They seemed a good side then," remembers Dumelow, "I'm not too sure what they're like now."
Notable Suffolk players are the fast bowler Justin Bishop, a former England Under-19 and Essex player, and batsman Tom Huggins, 24, who has played for Northamptonshire. Their keeper, Chris Warn, has first-class experience with Derbyshire, while offspinner Chris Swallow, has turned out for Essex 2s.
The cricket may be minor in name, but both sides have some major ambitions and the prospect of some seriously good play awaits.
Tickets are £10 for adults, and £5 for over-65s and under-16s. The reserve day, on September 16, is at Alderley Edge, Cheshire.
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo