Spearman's simple ferocity fires Gloucestershire quest

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Craig Spearman had turned his back on all cricket, finished his business studies degree and had arrived in England looking for a job in banking in the City. He reckoned without the effect of 9-11.

The financial sector was hit hard, suddenly there were no jobs, certainly not for this New Zealand-born British passport-holder, and the future looked somewhat bleak. More in hope than expectation, Spearman picked up the phone and rang one of only three New Zealanders he knew in England, John Bracewell, the Gloucestershire coach.

"He asked me if I knew of any county that might be interested in taking him on since he had a British passport because of his mother Sandra's Welsh background," recalled Bracewell. "I said straightaway, 'Don't move. We want you here'."

Spearman's cricket career was relaunched. He marked his Gloucestershire debut last year with a hundred in his first Championship innings.

"The Championship represented a new challenge for me," said Spearman, who played for New Zealand in 19 Tests between 1995-96 and 2000-01. "I'd heard a lot about how hard it was but I had toured with New Zealand and had been away for up to four months at a time, so five or six days away did not worry me."

While he proved a cultured and prolific batsman in the first-class game for Gloucestershire, topping 1,000 runs in that first season and going on to hit a couple more centuries, it was as a one-day batsman that he made the biggest impression. His timing and strength, superlative hand-eye coordination and the experience of more than 50 one-day internationals for New Zealand have created a devastatingly effective scorer of runs.

"It's just the way I have always played," said Spearman, who was 31 last month. "When I was 10 years old my headmaster gave me some sensible advice. He said: 'If you are going to hit the ball, hit it straight and hit it hard. Don't hit at people, hit it over them.'"

He clearly took those words to heart. When Bracewell, the 45-year-old former New Zealand Test off-spinner, first came across Spearman, he was 16 years old. "It was in a club game back in New Zealand. He belted me over the top."

The finished article has not changed so much. "I try not to overcomplicate my batting," Spearman says. "I keep it simple. Then there are fewer things to worry about."

So far this season he has thumped two centuries in the National League, while he is averaging more than 50 in the Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy, something of which Derbyshire, Gloucestershire's C & G semi-final opponents in Bristol today, will be acutely aware.

Spearman scores quickly in the short game. The unbeaten hundred he scored in last year's C & G Trophy came off 77 balls while his maiden one-day league century occupied 85 deliveries.

This summer he has proved even more devastating, smashing his maiden National League 150 off 123 balls, with five sixes and 16 fours. The 101 in the same competition against Essex, though relatively slow by Spearman's frenetic standards - it came off 93 balls - still contained three sixes. He maintained his present run of form with 85 against Surrey in the National League on Tuesday.

Bracewell, who leaves Gloucestershire at the end of this season to become New Zealand coach in the autumn, sees more than a mere run-scorer in Spearman, saying: "He is a very sound cricket thinker and that, coupled with his talent and experience of the game, gives him good leadership qualities."

That is something which may come into play later in his Gloucestershire career, should the county need to look elsewhere for a captain, because Spearman is not leaving his second cricket life just yet.

"I am committed to playing here for a few more years and, after all, I am only 31, he said. "The 15 months I had away from the game did me good. I see the game from a different angle now. I am playing cricket for different reasons, for fun. I am just enjoying it." And the Gloucestershire fans are enjoying watching him. Whether Derbyshire will feel the same after today remains to be seen.