Explosive Spearman leads Gloucestershire to final
Gloucestershire 152 for 2 (Spearman 86, Kadeer 33*) beat Lancashire 148 for 6 (Croft 33) by eight wickets
Craig Spearman chose the ideal time to make amends for a meagre Twenty20 season with a match-winning 55-ball 86 to put Gloucestershire into the final, for the first time, at Edgbaston with 19 deliveries to spare. An impressive fielding display kept Lancashire to 148 as Gloucestershire produced two vital run-outs, including Andrew Flintoff for 3.
Gloucestershire produced the brand of cricket that made them a one-day powerhouse under Mark Alleyne and John Bracewell. Crucially they came out on top during the six-over fielding restriction periods, which play such a vital part in Twenty20, and Spearman expertly showed how to exploit the early overs.
Before this match Spearman was averaging 7.85 in this season's tournament, but was quickly into his stride as 23 came off James Anderson's second over. He regularly brought out the reverse sweep against the spinners - sending Muttiah Muralitharan to the deep cover boundary twice in his first over - and reached his 33-ball half-century with a straight six off Gary Keedy.
Not even Flintoff could change the tide for Lancashire. He steamed in from the Pavilion End during an opening two-over burst, having a loud lbw shout against Spearman turned down before making a breakthrough when Hamish Marshall slashed to point. Flintoff was pumped, letting out a primeval roar, but his second over included a no-ball and the resulting free hit was dispatched by Spearman as Gloucestershire raced away and passed fifty in the sixth over.
Kadeer Ali played his part in a second-wicket century stand that came off just 67 balls, but everyone else was overshadowed by Spearman. He took Dominic Cork to the cleaners with two huge leg-side sixes in a superb display of clean striking before tamely chipping Muralitharan to midwicket with 12 needed. But he had more than done his job.
Spearman's top-order onslaught is what Lancashire missed. They suffered a chaotic build-up when Mal Loye, someone who could have produced a similar performance, was forced to pull out with a recurrence of his back problems. Mark Chilton, the captain, was going to drop himself if Loye played, but Lancashire still had plenty of power with Flintoff and Stuart Law opening.
However, a tight new-ball spell by Jon Lewis kept Lancashire in their shell. Law tried to break the shackles with a heave over the leg side, but his top-edge was sharply pouched at slip. Flintoff had already been dropped at mid-off on 1 by Alex Gidman before he was run out. The ball cannoned off his pad towards slip, Hodge started running before stopping and Flintoff couldn't get back.
Hodge, though, provided some impetus to the innings as he crunched six authoritative boundaries to become the second batsman to pass 1000 runs in the competition. However, Mark Hardinges picked up the key wicket when Hodge smashed a firm drive to Marshall at extra cover and the same combination accounted for Chilton.
Lancashire were partially revived by an enterprising innings from Gareth Cross and a 30-run stand between Cork and Glen Chapple. However, the fact that the only six came as late as the 19th over showed the extent of Gloucestershire's grip. Their batting ensured they never let go.
Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo