England unlikely to benefit from battle of overseas coaches

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The Independent Online

There was a time when the Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy Final gave players an opportunity to show they had what it took to perform on the big stage and ultimately sneak one of the last places on a winter tour with England. Essex's Ashley Cowan did just that in 1997, when an impressive spell of fast-bowling proved too much for Warwickshire.

Cowan did not cover himself in glory in the West Indies and it is unlikely, given their dim view of county cricket, that Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher will be swayed by any of the players from Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, who compete at Lord's today in this year's final. Indeed, but for the involvement of Vikram Solanki, Kabir Ali and Gareth Batty, three exciting young players at Worcester who have played for England at Test or one-day cricket in the past 12 months, there would appear to be little reason for England's captain and coach to turn the television on at all.

At a time when the hunger and commitment of England's cricketers is being questioned, one has to wonder whether it is a coincidence that both finalists - in a form of the game that rewards attention to detail - have ambitious overseas coaches driving their players forward.

Tom Moody, the former Australia all-rounder, has done an excellent job since he became the coach of Worcestershire in 2001. Under his guidance, the county achieved second place in last year's National Cricket League and have all but ensured promotion to the First Division of the Frizzell County Championship this summer. For a man who has already stated his desire to coach an international side - possibly England - today's final is a fitting reward.

Gloucestershire's record in one-day cricket has been phenomenal since John Bracewell took over as coach. His methods may not have been popular, but few would dispute that the former New Zealand off-spinner has got the most out of his limited but committed squad. This will be the county's seventh Lord's final in the past five years - four have been won - and it would take a brave man to bet against them today.

Bracewell's achievements in the West Country have not gone unnoticed back home. This will be the 45-year-old's last big game for Gloucestershire before he starts his new job as New Zealand's coach at the end of this season.

Gloucestershire's success has come through being a well-drilled and disciplined team that makes the most of its talent. They have plenty of options, but do not attempt to play beyond their limitations. Their game-plan is pretty rigid and revolves around Jack Russell, the eccentric wicket-keeper who is doubtful with a back complaint, standing up to the stumps to all of their bowlers. Mark Alleyne is a highly respected leader and in Ian Harvey, Craig Spearman and Jonty Rhodes - who are all unavailable to play for England - they have three potential match-winners.

Nobody will be more keen to make an impression than Gloucestershire's left-handed opening batsman, Philip Weston, who left Worcestershire at the end of last season because Moody could not see him playing one-day cricket. In Alex Gidman, Gloucestershire have a player with the most to gain from a good performance here. Short-listed for the Academy this year, the talented 22-year-old has the chance to book himself a winter working with Rod Marsh.

Worcestershire owe their place in today's final to Andrew Hall, who bowled one of the most memorable and best last overs in one-day cricket during the semi-final. Lancashire needed just seven runs to win when Hall, who has been given special dispensation by the South Africa touring party to play in both the semi-final and today's final, was handed the ball. Under immense pressure, the all-rounder took two wickets without conceding a run as Lancashire fell six runs short. Amid great scenes at New Road, Hall was carried off by Worcestershire's ecstatic fans.

With the exception of Kabir, Solanki and the run-machine Graeme Hick, Worcestershire's potential match-winners are also ineligible to play for England. Hall, along with his former South Africa team-mate Nantie Haywood, and Matthew Mason - an Australian with a European passport - will bowl the majority of "the pears" overs in weather that could well offer the quicker men some assistance.

Overseas players appear to benefit from playing in these matches. The problem is, why don't England's?