CHESHIRE have made a double swoop as they try and book themselves a date with a first-class county next season.
Andy Hall's team meet Bedfordshire at Warkdon Park, Luton, in the first round of the C&G Trophy on Thursday knowing victory would earn them a lucrative showdown and welcome money-spinner by drawing the crowds next season.
And in a bid to make sure they do make it into the next round the county have signed two overseas stars, which every team in the competition are allowed.
Queensland all-rounder Clinton Perren has been recruited to add depth to the side for the 50-over match, while Trinidad & Tobago ace Marlon Black, a towering 6ft plus fast bowler, is being brought in to claim some prize scalps.
Perren, who has scored 1,474 runs at an average of 33.50 at first-class level, is currently shining as a professional for Little-borough in the Central Lancashire League.
Meanwhile, Black has been starring for Huyton in the Liverpool Competition and was recommended to Cheshire chairman Gerry Hardtstaff by county vice-captain Richard Hignett, who plays for Bootle in the same league.
Black, 28, has played in a total of four Tests and four one-day internationals for the West Indies, and has also been a member of Trinidad & Tobago representative sides since 1993-94.
He appeared in each of the first three matches on West Indies' five-Test tour of Australia in 2000, claiming 4-83 in Brisbane on his international debut.
But his test-career was tragically cut-short after being beaten by three men in Melbourne, while on tour with his country. Black was punched and kicked repeatedly to the head and body and struck with a garden stake before being left unconscious. As a result his test career suffered and he has since had to rebuild his career at first-class and representative levels.
Aussie Perren is a determined, combative and often underestimated batsman and made his limited-overs debut for Queensland in 1997-98, followed by his entry into first-class ranks the following season. This came on the heels of a distinguished junior and early club career, which was highlighted by his selection as an inductee of the Australian Cricket Academy in 1995.
"We have recruited two very good players," said Hardstaff, who is optimistic of his team's chances of meeting a big team next year in the second stage of the competition. "This is a big game for us and we look good because we have got the strongest side we have fielded all year. Marlon was recommended to us by Richard Hignett and Andy Hall recommended Clinton Perren, so hopefully they can both come in and cause some problems.
"Marlon is a fast bowler and he should take wickets for us, while Clinton has been scoring runs. They have both been playing first-class cricket when they go home, so they should fit into Minor Counties level easily."
Indeed, Hardstaff and his captain will be hoping both players find their feet quickly and give Cheshire the edge on their Eastern Division opponents.
"It's a big match for us because you get the chance to play against a big side next year," added Hardstaff. "It would mean we could try and attract a big crowd and at the same time raise some money for the county club.
"It's important we have got both play-ers because Bedfordshire are a strong side, and most teams in the competition make sure they have overseas players, including the first-class counties. We want to generate as much local interest as we can for the county club and I'm sure it would be great for the players to play in front of a big crowd."
Cheshire have never played Bedfordshire in the league set-up, but played them in 1996 in the Knockout Cup at Lords. That day, under the captaincy of Ian Cockbain, Cheshire triumphed to win silverware.
But this time around Hardstaff knows his team face a much tougher proposition, especially with their opponents having recruited former Australian allrounder Shaun Young for the eagerly-awaited contest.
Young also had a successful spell with Gloucestershire, as well as making his mark as one of the most consistent players in Tasmania, his birthplace and where has played most of his club cricket Down Under.
Beds also have wicketkeeper James Knott, son of former England legend, Alan, who has been in fine form with the willow this term, along with starring for the Minor Counties representative side.
Knott averages 62.42 with bat having scored 437 runs this term, while Young has taken an impressive 87 wickets at first-class level and notched up 2485 runs at 32.69.
However, Hardstaff believes no side are favourites for the showdown and everything is up for grabs - especially being the last game of the season.
"In a 50-over game it's even-money for either side," said Hardstaff. "You just need someone on either side to perform and come off for you. David Ward did it for Hertfordshire against us in the MCCA Knockout Cup quarter-final earlier this year, so we know anything can happen.
"We have just got to concentrate on our own game and hopefully we get that little spark of magic which helps us sneak a win."
CHESHIRE SQUAD: Alexis Twigg (Harrogate), Andy Hall (Bramhall, captain), Clinton Perren (Littleborough, overseas), Richard Hignett (Bootle, vice captain), Simon Renshaw (Kibworth), Neil Cross (Oxton), Jason Whittaker (Oulton Park), Simon Marshall (Neston), Marlon Black (Huyton, overseas), Stephen Ogilby (Chester Boughton Hall, wicketkeeper), Robin Fisher (Bootle), Dave Pennett (Harrogate). Scorer: Jack Hempstock