Cricket: Hamilton ready for a new high

Jon Culley finds Yorkshire's all-rounder in a confident vein
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The Independent Online
HAD GAVIN HAMILTON, aged 17, been of a mind to strike out on his own, he might just have been at Wembley this afternoon rather than Lord's. This was the plan, in any case, during the four years during which he traipsed up to Highbury every week from his home in Kent to train with Arsenal schoolboys.

But then came the news that his father's career in civil engineering required that the family uproot and move back to Scotland. It meant a tough choice for young Gavin. Ten years of suburban London life had rubbed the edge from his accent but he decided, none the less, that he was not quite ready to fly solo in the metropolis. Thus ended a potential career in football.

Yorkshire's talented all-rounder, who is likely to emerge one way or another as a key figure in today's Benson and Hedges Super Cup final against Gloucestershire, might at this stage have been lost to cricket too had his Lancastrian father, who played at a good club standard with Sidcup, not introduced him to West Lothian.

There his natural ability stood out. On the recommendation of the umpire Jack van Geloven he was offered trials at the Yorkshire Academy and thereafter has not looked back. Yorkshire's investment has paid off handsomely. Last season brought almost 100 wickets - 59 of them first-class - more than 750 runs and close consideration for England's World Cup squad, the missing of which was more than compensated when Scotland picked him.

The experience, he says, set him up nicely for a season which might be coming to a peak at precisely the right moment as Yorkshire attempt to secure their first major trophy for 12 years.

"To be playing against - and genuinely competing with - some of the best players in the world was a fantastic experience and to have played well personally meant I was able to come out of it into the domestic season feeling very confident," Hamilton said.

"You play against international cricketers for your county but it is different to be facing one high-class bowler after another. I can tell you, against Pakistan, with Shoaib Ahktar at one end I'd never been so keen to be facing Wasim Akram."

Hamilton's 76 against Pakistan was the outstanding performance of Scotland's campaign, although he regards himself still as a bowler who bats. "My batting has come on a step further but I'm happy to be seen as a bowling all-rounder. I'm up to seven in the order. Number six would be perfect but I'm comfortable where I am."

For all that he relished the atmosphere in Scotland's dressing room, his ambitions are fixed firmly on breaking into the England side, which is why he will have personal, as well as team, goals at Lord's today. And he goes there as part of a team brimful of confidence after last Wednesday's comprehensive defeat of their fiercest rivals, Lancashire, in the NatWest Trophy quarter-finals.

"That was as well as we have played for a long time and it did us a world of good," he said. "We were due a win against Lancashire and to have played a game like that in such an atmosphere, with the crowd behind us all the time, was just what we needed.

"Domestic games do not come any bigger than Yorkshire against Lancashire in a one-day knock-out and it was just about the perfect warm-up for Lord's. If we play as well as we did at Old Trafford I cannot see us losing. This has been the biggest week of my life for Yorkshire. I want to be successful both with Yorkshire and for myself."

Confident though he is, however, of overcoming a Gloucestershire side whom everyone outside Bristol regards as underdogs, Hamilton remains aware that Yorkshire have underachieved to the extent that at times their big- match temperament has been questioned. "We know, in ourselves, that we should be winning trophies. We should be winning one and maybe two trophies a year with the talent we have in this squad, but there is only one player in the team who has been to a Lord's final.

"But we proved we could be cool under pressure in front of a big crowd at Old Trafford and while there will be some nerves before the match we believe we can win." Hamilton played a key role at Old Trafford with some tight bowling and 24 late runs as Yorkshire amassed a total that proved just too daunting for Lancashire.

Although he has yet to capture the headlines to quite the same extent as last season, which reached a peak when he took 7 for 50 against Surrey at Headingley, he believes he is matching his high standards. "I may not have taken a seven-for this season but I'm getting three-fors and four- fors. You can always improve but overall I'm pretty happy with my form."