Ball offers some cheer on grey day

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The Independent Online

It was billed as a grudge match, but grudging would have been more accurate.

It was billed as a grudge match, but grudging would have been more accurate.

Very few runs - and those for the most part scored slowly - and worse for the onlookers, not so much as a crumb from the the Ladies' Pavilion, an institution famed for its high-quality home-made provisions at every match at New Road.

But then no-one seemed that enthusiastic about this replayed NatWest Trophy third-round tie, not even the two teams, well not until the tense finish at any rate.

Perhaps they were waiting for the widely forecast deluge, which should have drenched play by mid-afternoon, early in the Worcestershire innings and reduced everything to a bowl-out. The rain never came.

Nor did victory for Worcestershire. If there was any justice, it had been seen to have been done. Worcestershire had been penalised for their administrative error in playing Kabir Ali in the original match against Gloucestershire a fortnight ago.

The youngster was Cup-tied at that point having turned out in the first round of the competition for the Worcestershire Board XI. It was a genuine error, claimed Worcestershire.

They were handicapped by injury to Richard Illingworth. The slow left-arm bowler would almost certainly have been able to turn the trickle of Gloucestershire runs into a dribble and he would also have been very effective in picking off vital runs at the death.

But Worcestershire still had their heroes. The opener Paul Pollard for one, although his stolid half-century was rendered null and void when he was foolishly run-out opting to back himself for a second run against Mike Smith's deadly arm, and Steven Rhodes.

The wicketkeeper took things right up to the wire but, although his nerve held, his wicket did not. In the final over he played on to Martyn Ball's third delivery and that was that.

In truth, Worcestershire did not make much of their second bite, not until it was too late anyway. While it has to be said that neither side was helped by the pitch, which, had it been any lower or slower, would have brought proceedings to a complete halt, both sets of batsmen had difficulty in getting the ball off the square.

Gloucestershire's innings was a real bits-and-pieces affair. Ian Harvey, their Australian import, was the top-scorer with 32. Next highest was Kim Barnett with 26. Everyone chipped in and the whole bag just did not look enough.

However, Gloucestershire did have the edge on the bowling front in that they kept the ball in the right area and made defending a very modest total seem straightforward. They begrudged every run.

Harvey demonstrating textbook line and length, and was a model of economy; James Averis generated enough bounce and pace to pick up four vital wickets and Ball, having proved his worth with his bowling, showed two touches of genius in the field, holding on to an airborne catch at slip to get rid of Worcestershire's captain Graeme Hick and later another effort at backward point which accounted for Duncan Catterall.

All that and 19 useful runs earned Ball the man-of-the-match award, although the organisers allowed Worcestershire's Ryan Driver, who picked up the award in the original tie, to keep the £350 he won two weeks ago. All the achievements from the first meeting remain on the record books as well. A fortnight ago Gloucestershire were out of the NatWest Trophy. This morning they tackle Leicestershire. For Worcestershire there is not even a crumb of comfort.

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