Spearman prepares to steal Hick thunder

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The Independent Online

For the past 20 years the mention of Graeme Hick has been enough to make the normally steady fingers of a seasoned county bowler twitch in an uncontrollable manner. And with justification. Since making his debut for Worcestershire in 1984 the Zimbabwe born right-hander has amassed 57,752 runs in Test, first-class and one-day cricket.

For the past 20 years the mention of Graeme Hick has been enough to make the normally steady fingers of a seasoned county bowler twitch in an uncontrollable manner. And with justification. Since making his debut for Worcestershire in 1984 the Zimbabwe born right-hander has amassed 57,752 runs in Test, first-class and one-day cricket.

The 38 year old remains a formidable opponent for bowlers, but there is now a batsman in English domestic cricket who instills greater fear in bowlers. He plays for Gloucestershire against Worcestershire in today's Cheltenham and Gloucester Trophy final at Lord's.

Craig Spearman arrived in England in 2001 after becoming disillusioned with cricket in New Zealand. The Welsh roots of the former Kiwi opener allowed him to gain employment in England, and initially he aimed to pursue a career in the City. Several counties were aware of his availability, but Spearman's Test and first-class records in New Zealand were modest and gave little indication of the havoc he could cause. Gloucestershire, who were then being coached by John Bracewell - a fellow Kiwi - clinched his signature, and what an inspired decision that has proved to be.

Spearman has performed with distinction during his three seasons in England. So much so that Bracewell, who is now the New Zealand coach, has asked him to come out of international retirement. Spearman turned down the offer because he wants to remain in Britain and qualify to play for England. He will be eligible in 12 months time.

In first-class cricket the 32 year old has scored more than 3,600 runs at an average of 47, the highlight being the 341 he smashed against Middlesex - the highest score by a Gloucestershire cricketer. But it is in one-day cricket that Spearman has made the biggest impact. He is tall for a batsman at six foot, but it is his timing that allows him to effortlessly hit the ball over the fielders, whether they are on the edge of the 30-yard circle or the boundary. In the past three years no batsman has scored more one-day runs than Spearman, and no player comes close to touching his strike-rate of almost a run a ball.

His record in this year's C&G Trophy is superb. In four matches he has scored 294 runs at an average of 96, with 184 of these runs coming in boundaries. The highlight was his unbeaten 143 in the semi-final against Yorkshire. Few teams have successfully chased down a score of 243 in Bristol, but Spearman guided Gloucestershire to their seventh Lord's final in six seasons.

The champions will be without Mike Smith today. The veteran bowler will retire at the end of the season, and a neck injury has deprived him the chance of finishing his career in a show-piece final. The Australian bowler Nathan Bracken, Gloucestershire's latest overseas player, is also absent after failing to arrive in England in time.

Before international cricket filled the summer, this final was played in front of capacity crowds. But this is no longer the case and 4,000 tickets will be on sale at the ground this morning.

Worcestershire also have injury problems and are likely to be without their two leading bowlers. The side strain that caused Kabir Ali to withdraw from England's NatWest Challenge squad also keeps him out of today's game, and Andy Bichel, the Australian bowler, may only play as a batsman. Worcestershire's one-day success this summer has been built around tight bowling and electric fielding, but the loss of this pair will reduce their chances of dismissing Spearman cheaply.

Vikram Solanki has been in fine form with the bat and he will be hoping a good score here will allow him to force his way into England's starting XI against India on Wednesday.

Stephen Rhodes will captain the side following the surprise resignation of Ben Smith. The stalwart wicket-keeper retires at the end of the season and he, along with everybody from Worcester, will be aiming to put on a better show than they did in last year's C&G Trophy final, when Gloucestershire thrashed them by seven wickets.

Gloucestershire: M W Alleyne (c), C M Spearman, W P C Weston, M E Hussey, C G Taylor, A P R Gidman, S J Adshead, M C J Ball, I D Fisher, J M M Averis, J Lewis, T H C Hancock, M G N Windows.

Worcestershire: S J Rhodes (c), V S Solanki, S C Moore, G A Hick, B F Smith, D A Leatherdale, A J Bichel, G J Batty, A Hall, M S Mason, R Price, M N Malik, S D Peters.

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