Pinch adds a punch for Surrey

BENSON AND HEDGES FINAL: First domestic showcase matches a Zimbabwean with two brothers seeking fresh inspiration
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The first of the domestic showcases - today's Benson and Hedges final between warring neighbours Kent and Surrey - has much to recommend it, not least that Lord's will not be playing the haughty aristocrat it does during Test matches. Just as well, for it will be the first major sighting of the Hollioake brothers since their one-day exploits against Australia in the Texaco Trophy managed to knock the Spice Girls off the front pages.

However, will the hysteria, Surrey apart and Kent excepted, be the same as it was during that heady week in May, when the nation swooned and the house of Hollioake received more attention than the House of Windsor?

Since his audacious announce- ment against the Aussies at Lord's, Ben, the younger of the brothers, has been largely anonymous, seemingly swallowed up by the soulless treadmill that is still an abiding reality for county cricketers. Only three half- centuries and a handful of wickets have ensued, performances that do not even hint at the potential of the player who outsmarted the Aussies on that bright and breezy Sunday at HQ.

It can be particularly tough for a teenager, however laid back, to go from banner headlines to an also-ran in small print and not feel betrayed. Being signed to a voracious agent has probably not helped. But while there is little doubt that sportsmen need to be protected from unscrupulous employers, big talk from flash men who know little about the game usually does more long-term harm than good.

You only have to consider the confused but sumptuously talented Chris Lewis, who shares the same agent, to realise the pitfalls. One can only hope, therefore, that a return to the big stage will rehabilitate his betrayed spirit and help Ben to re-assert his credentials as an all-rounder of special talent.

Similarly brother Adam, who despite having the distractions of captaincy to keep him occupied, must also be similarly disenchanted. Since his pungent contributions to the Texaco matches, the elder Hollioake has been stuck in limbo, waiting for his chance of a Test place.

It has not come, and though he will settle for a Surrey victory today, his international ambitions could do with an impressive performance, particularly if his captaincy, which can be bold and authoritative, and his batting are to remain in the selectorial eye.

His team, apart from losing twice to Kent this season, are the epitome of a modern one-day outfit, and must start favourites. Armed with more pinch-hitting options than a Punch and Judy baseball game, their batting is the strongest in the land, only susceptible when they overdo the gung-ho spirit. It is an excitability that their Australian coach, Dave Gilbert, will try and temper without compromising confidence.

Even so, with the occasion - plus the small fact that Surrey have not won this competition since 1974 - likely to stimulate their trio of Test players, Alec Stewart, Mark Butcher and Graham Thorpe, the booming bats of Alistair Brown and Ben Hollioake are likely to try and gorge themselves in the first 15 overs.

It will be Kent's job, particularly the new ball attack of Dean Headley and Martin McCague, to try and prevent Surrey getting the flier that makes them such a feared one-day batting side. Significantly, both bowlers have the pace to make things awkward for those throwing the bat and even on a pitch which ought to be baked to perfection after a week of blazing sunshine, the pair could throw Surrey's game plan into disarray should they take early wickets.

Unusually, both sides will field leg-spinners, with Kent's Paul Strang likely to shade Ian Salisbury in the steadiness stakes. Surrey, however, although relying primarily on a bevy of all-rounders to do their bowling, will also include another spinner, Saqlain Mushtaq, whose peerless off- breaks for Pakistan saw him reach 100 one-day wickets in record time. And yet brilliant though he is, it is 11 years since a spinner (John Emburey) won the gold award in a Lord's final.

Kent's batting, still waiting over a late fitness test on Graham Cowdrey's hamstring, will revolve around the clean striking Trevor Ward, whose duels with Surrey's spinners may well prove to be one of the highlights of the match.

Like their opponents, Kent bat a long way down and a middle order that comprises the likes of Alan Wells, Mark Ealham, Nigel Llong, and ends with the skipper Steve Marsh at nine, is certainly capable of big runs.

On paper the duel looks to be between Surrey's strokeplayers and Kent's pace bowlers. On the field, it could be down to who is prepared to scrap the hardest. As the Hollioakes have been doing that for most of their lives and are due a renaissance, Surrey should shade it.

Kent (from): M V Fleming, M J Walker, D P Fulton, T R Ward, A P Wells, M A Ealham, N J Llong, P A Strang, S A Marsh (capt, wkt), M J McCague, D W Headley, G R Cowdrey, A P Igglesden, J B D Thompson.

Surrey (from): A D Brown, A J Stewart (wkt), B C Hollioake, G P Thorpe, A J Hollioake (capt), C C Lewis, M A Butcher, J D Ratcliffe, I D K Salisbury, M P Bicknell, Saqlain Mushtaq, J E Benjamin.

Umpires: D Shepherd and G Sharp.

ROUTES TO THE FINAL: Kent: Group stage: v Surrey (The Oval) won by four wickets; v Hampshire (Canterbury) won by two wickets; v Sussex (Canterbury) won by six wickets; v British Universities (Canterbury) won by four wickets; v Gloucestershire (Bristol) match abandoned. Quarter-final: v Warwickshire (Canterbury) won by four wickets. Semi-final: v Northamptonshire (Canterbury) won by 66 runs.

Surrey: Group stage: v Kent (The Oval) lost by four wickets; v Gloucestershire (Bristol) won by three wickets; v British Universities (The Oval) won by six wickets; v Hampshire (Southampton) won by 165 runs; v Sussex (The Oval) won by 11 runs. Quarter-final: v Essex (Chelmsford) won by six wickets. Semi-final: v Leicestershire (The Oval) won by 130 runs.