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James Hildreth, the long-serving Somerset batter, has announced that he will retire from professional cricket at the end of the season, almost 20 years after making his debut for the club.
Regarded by some as the best batter of his generation not to have represented England, Hildreth amassed more than 17,000 first-class runs for Somerset, putting him third on the county's all-time list behind Harold Gimblett and Marcus Trescothick. He currently averages 40.98, with 47 first-class hundreds, but the closest he came to being capped was a handful of Lions appearances more than a decade ago.
He is Somerset's leading run-scorer in T20 cricket, with 3906, and also tallied more than 6000 runs in List A games. Hildreth hit the winning runs when Somerset won the 2005 Twenty20 Cup, aged 20, and then did the same at Lord's 14 years on to secure the Royal London Cup.
Hildreth will turn 38 next month, and has only managed 256 runs at 25.60 in this year's County Championship. He was not involved at all in Somerset's Blast campaign.
"It feels like the right time to start a new chapter in my life and I'm excited about what the future holds," Hildreth said. "I left school at 18 and have spent the last 20 years with the club. It's been my life and I've loved every minute of it.
"The club and cricket as a whole has given myself and my family so much over the last 20 years, and I've got nothing but fondness and love for the club and that will continue for the rest of my life. I'm looking forward to being a Somerset supporter and to coming down to watch the guys with my family and my children.
"The thing I'll miss most is the pride that you feel when you pull on that shirt to represent the club and the whole of the south west. The Somerset members and supporters have been incredible to me. They've always been so supportive, and I've always felt that, whether that's walking through town or being out on the pitch. I'd like to thank them for their support over the years, and hopefully I've managed to bring a little bit of enjoyment into their lives with what I've done on the pitch."
Hildreth, who was awarded his county cap in 2007 and a testimonial year in 2017, has made 715 appearances for Somerset - more than any other player - and was a central figure as the club regularly pushed for their first Championship pennant during the 2010s, five times finishing as runners-up.
Somerset's director of cricket, Andy Hurry, said: "James Hildreth will go down in history as one of the best players ever to represent this club. His stats speak for themselves, but his contribution to Somerset cricket has been so much more than that.
"During his time at the club he has proved himself to be the model professional and he is the perfect role model for any aspiring player. The way that he has conducted himself both on and off the field has been exemplary, and as such he has become one of the most respected players within the domestic game over the last 20 years.
"His name will forever be synonymous with Somerset County Cricket Club, and everyone associated with SCCC wishes James and his family well in their future endeavours. On behalf of everyone at the cub both now and in the past, thank you for so many incredible memories."
Somerset's head coach, Jason Kerr, recalled two of Hildreth's "outstanding" innings for the club - a 53-ball T20 hundred against Glamorgan in 2012, and his century on one leg during the final game of the 2016 Championship - while Gordon Hollins, the chief executive, described him as one of the finest batters of his era and a "mainstay of the success that this club has achieved over the last 20 years".
Kerr added: "I guess all good things have to come to an end, but James has had an outstanding career and I'm sure that we'll see a deserving outpouring of best wishes and superlatives for him over the next few weeks. There's no doubt he'll be missed, first and foremost as a person, but obviously also as a cricketer. Players of Hildy's calibre are few and far between."