Cheshire chase final glory
Cheshire require 305 runs to beat Buckinghamshire tomorrow and claim the Minor Counties Championship on the last day of this year's four-day final.
Bidding to win their fourth championship title in nine years, Cheshire have eight wickets remaining for what promises to be a tense run-chase at Slough CC.
Resuming on 97 for two from 32 overs, Bucks lost steady wickets and Cheshire had them in trouble at 220 for seven.
But the hosts battled back to post a second-innings total of 336 and left Cheshire needing 401 for victory, with a minimum 102 overs on the final day.
Former Middlesex and Durham second XI batsman Ricky Hopwood top-scored for Bucks with 73, while all-rounder Sam Cherry chipped in with an important 52 not out.
Bucks vice captain Paul Sawyer contributed 50 to the total, while off-spinner Daniel Berry (4-56) from 14 overs and fellow spinner Nathan Dumelow (2-60) from 29.5 overs were the pick of Cheshire's bowlers.
Berry had the chance of a hat-trick after successive wickets with the score on 186, but it was not to be for the talented Hyde youngster making his first appearance in a championship final.
There was also wickets for Jason Whittaker, Adam Syddall, Rick Moore and Chris Finegan in Bucks' second innings, but Finegan was unable to play on the penultimate day because of a calf injury.
A third-wicket partnership of 86 between Hopwood and Sawyer gave Bucks a good start to the day, before Cherry and Matthew Watson shared an important eighth wicket partnership of 50 to get the hosts out of trouble having lost three wickets for just 17 runs.
In reply, Cheshire, who trailed by 64 runs after the first innings, started in fine fashion as openers Warren Goodwin and Moore put on 88 for the first wicket.
But Goodwin was lbw for 40 and Moore was bowled for 33 as Cheshire lost two wickets for three runs in a gripping finish to the day's play.
Cherry was on song with the ball this time with a commendable 2-7 from eight overs.
That left Ben Spendlove and David Hurst to bat out seven overs until the close of play and consolidate their position, before the real challenge of chasing down just over 300 runs for victory began on the fourth and final day.
"I thought we worked really hard all day, but Bucks had a couple of decent partnerships and have put themselves in a good position," reflected Cheshire skipper Andy Hall.
"But it's going to be an exciting last night. The match is still wide open and, if we bat well, we know we can chase down these runs."
Cheshire need roughly three runs an over, but keeping wickets in hand will be the key if they are to succeed in their bid to win a second championship title in the last three seasons.
"We've just got be confident and back ourselves to get the runs," added Hall. "It's still a very good pitch and there's already a lot of runs been scored, it's a good test for us."