Cricket: Man in the middle: The dogged opener who retrieved his bat from the bin

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THE ROAD towards regular first- class cricket can be a rocky one. With a career-best 147 and a second-innings 46 against Essex at Southend last week, Gloucestershire opening batsman Dean Hodgson confirmed his booking at the top of the order, but the 25- year-old from Cumberland is far from complacent.

'It should have been 200 in the first innings and I should still be batting now,' he said after lunch on the last day, as Paul Prichard (three overs for 46 runs) treated the visitors to his uncanny impersonation of a 'joke bowler'.

Hodgson played Minor County cricket for Cumberland, while working his way towards a secure BA at Loughborough in human biology. 'I'd played for Lancashire seconds, but I could see that the opportunity was going to be limited. They took on Mike Atherton, Nick Speak and Graham Lloyd all at once. Then I had a couple of summers at Warwickshire, 1987 and 1988. They released me,' he says, using the delicate cricketing euphemism for the sack. 'That really was the turning point. I thought about jacking it in.

'But I decided to give it another go, and apply to a county with more chance of First XI games. I had a couple of try-outs at Worcester and then I got a game at Gloucester. But I was still playing for the Seconds, not doing very well, so again I decided to jack it in. I actually threw my bat in the bin.' Is this a self-made sporting myth? 'No, it's true,' insists Hodgson. 'I threw my bat away.

'Then they were short for a game, so I gave it one last go. I made 160 not out and 40 not out, and it snowballed from there. I got a two-year contract, moved to Bristol, and in 1990 I played almost all the games.'

Apart from a setback with a shoulder injury, Hodgson has not really looked back. He's the type of opening bat who likes it quick and short outside off, so that he can get a move on. 'When you graduate to first-class cricket you have to learn how to play spin bowling all over again,' he says. 'In club cricket the spinners always give you the odd bad ball so that you can settle yourself in. That doesn't happen at the top level.'

Which brings us to a rare distinction. Playfair Cricket Annual does not credit Hodgson with any bowling ability whatsoever. 'That's because my bowling is very, very horrible. I did bowl against Kent once. Four overs for 65. I always enjoy doing well against Kent.'

Although Hodgson's county have the circuit's most effective bowler, Courtney Walsh, they are nevertheless assisting Glamorgan in propping up the Championship table. He puts a lot of it down to bad luck and bad weather. 'We've lost forfeiture games, which are always a gamble, and if we've won we've missed out on batting points. And obviously you can't replace someone like Syd (Lawrence). But we're all working hard at our job. That's how I look at it. I'm enjoying my cricket, and I've got a little job to do, so I get on with it.'