Skipper Steve Leach excited by the start of Shropshire’s Championship campaign this weekend

Steve Leach believes Shropshire are capable of emerging as title challengers in the Unicorns Championships ahead of the start of the county’s three-day season this weekend.

Leach, in his third year as Shropshire captain, is encouraged how the county has performed in one-day cricket this season, with three impressive victories guiding them through to the semi-finals of the Unicorns Trophy.

Now he wants to maintain the winning habit in the Championship, starting against Cheshire in the opener at Shifnal, which gets under way on Sunday.

“We’ve obviously exceeded expectations so far in one-day cricket,” said Leach. “We’ve won three games, but we certainly don’t need to get ahead of ourselves.

“I’m really aware of the fact that we’re now starting a new competition, something that in previous years we’ve been more suited to.

“We highlighted at the start of the year that we believed we can challenge if we can keep the continuity and have good availability.

“I’m really keen for the lads to go into this game feeling refreshed and excited about starting a new challenge.

“We know we need to get off to a good start. You only play six matches in the Championship and you’ve got to do the hard work and get some good results at the front end of the three-day season in order to be in with a chance come the end of the six games.”

Shropshire, fourth in the Western Division last year, also face Cheshire the following Sunday, July 1 in the Unicorns Trophy semi-final at Bridgnorth, and Leach is looking for his side to gain the upper hand going into that big knockout clash.

The opening batsman said: “We’re going to see a lot of the Cheshire lads. We already know a lot about them from previous years and Danny Leech is leading their team this season.

“Cheshire are always a really strong team, so it’s going to be a very tough start for us, but we’re going to look to set a marker down, not only for the semi-final the following Sunday, but also for this three-day competition generally.”

He added: “I’m optimistic. I think that we have a group of players that are capable of winning the competition, I absolutely believe that, however availability and injuries do play a factor.”

Shropshire were victorious in their Championship outing at Shifnal last season, beating Oxfordshire by eight wickets, and Leach stressed he’s excited about leading out the county at his home club ground.

“Shifnal’s a brilliant venue,” he said. “We are blessed in Shropshire that we really get looked after by our clubs. We play at some good grounds. The groundsmen work really hard to prepare good pitches and the hospitality is always excellent.

“That’s just a trait of Shropshire cricket, something which as a county we should be really proud of. I’m looking forward to playing at Shifnal and what’s most important is we go there and get the right result.”

The first ball will be bowled at 11am at Shifnal on Sunday, with admission free for spectators on all three days.

Pictured: Shifnal Cricket Club hosts Shropshire’s opening Unicorns Championship match of the season.