ECB Premier: OULTON PARK defeated the might of Bowdon in the League Cup final last season, but are they ready to take their title?
They finished 90 points behind the champions in third place and their aim is simply to improve. But Bowdon stay favourites.
New Oulton captain Stewart Eaton believes he has a well-balanced team whose average age is only 27.
Park ooze class. Whitegate-based Danny Leech and oversees recruit Liam Buchanan, who has opened for Victoria 2nds and Australia U19s, open the batting.
At three and four will be prolific Paul Berry and Cheshire all-rounder Jason Whittaker; at five will be Danny Jones who joins brother Chris in the side. At six and seven, Oulton have the Premiership's leading wick-etkeeper Mike Bentham and experienced John Davies, who leads a powerful lower order which includes Eaton, hard-hitting Roger Thompson and County colt Andy Wilgose.
Left-arm paceman Danny Jones, who played half-a-dozen games for Lancashire Twos last season, strengthens the attack.
'With such a young side, the fielding should be of a high order and that could be crucial, but there will be no easy games,' said Eaton.
Simon Torlop and Stuart Macleod skipper the 2nds and 3rds respectively and, after successive promotion, the 3rds are also only one step away from their Premiership.
But eyes all over Cheshire will be on the 1st X1 who start at home to Alderley Edge.
WINNINGTON PARK mounted an early promotion challenge in Division One last season, before fading in the last third of the campaign.
But their ambitions are not as lofty this time round.
Skipper Mike Johns said: 'I don't think we have a team yet for the Premier Division.'
What's more, Park have been unable to recruit and have lost three batsmen - Tom Allen, who is spending a year in Canada, David Leech, now living in London, and veteran Chris Leech, now at Oakmere.
'We have got some good youngsters through and they will get their chance,' said Johns.
Up-and-coming players like Jim and Tom Pilling, Rob Begbie and Jon Wales press for first-team places, and Park welcome back Aussie Craig Little for a second summer.
But Johns added: 'We had hoped to pick up a few new men, but they haven't materialised. We are putting our efforts again into the development of youth. In the last few years we have not devoted much time and coaching, and other clubs have taken advantage of that.
'Lads who might well have come to us are at Oulton Park and Northwich and we have to correct that.'
Winnington start at Birkenhead Park.
MIDDLEWICH make their return to the County League, in Division Three, after a two-year absence with one thing in mind.
'The first thing is to stay in it,' said Gavin Tomlinson, who skippered the Haddon Fielders to the Cheshire League title last year.
They survived four years last time around, but that final relegation season is still fresh in the memory.
'It was a huge disappointment but we have a much stronger squad now. Our aim is to be in the same league again next year and I think we will be,' added Tomlinson.
Middlewich now have a trio of Parrys. Father David and son Steve are joined by Steve's younger brother, Phil, from Elworth. He's 16 and expected to be pushing for a first-team place at some point. Otherwise, Middlewich start as they finished so the team will include Nick Lee, who moved from Derbyshire and Cheshire League cricket to play the final four games last season, making more than 200 runs.
Double-bay Astroturf nets should be completed in the next couple of weeks at Haddon Field.
Middlewich will have to wait a further week to gauge themselves at County League level, because their first game is at home to their Cheshire League title rivals of last season, Weaverham.
'We don't underestimate the standard and I think even at our level we will come across paid players of a high standard. Not that we will ever pay - players have to hand over their subs at Middlewich,' said Tomkinson.
WEAVERHAM'S open -ing bowler Barry Crellin, who took 30 wickets last year, has returned to Winsford and the club has failed to recruit.
Skipper John Lightfoot said: 'We'll miss his bowling and he averaged 27 with the bat. He is a character and helped bond the team. We hoped to sign three players from the Cheshire League but they chose to stay with their clubs. It is a survival fight for us.'
Weaverham's debut season in the County League is marked by a new scorebox, two new screens and a new umpires' changing room.