Spearman makes his point
Craig Spearman hit a brilliant 86 to help Gloucestershire storm into the Twenty20 Cup final after Lancashire continued their desperate run of semi-final failures.
Tournament favourites Lancashire slumped to an eight-wicket defeat in the opening match of Twenty20 finals day at Edgbaston after being limited to a modest score of 148 for six, which Gloucestershire passed with ease with 19 balls to spare.
It was Lancashire’s eighth semi-final defeat in all one-day competitions in eight seasons - during which time they have also lost two limited overs finals.
The England pair Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson returned to the Lancashire ranks but New Zealand-born Spearman launched into the star-studded line-up.
He hit eight fours and four sixes in his superb 54-ball innings and guided Gloucestershire to an emphatic triumph.
Lancashire’s hopes of reaching their second final in this competition were undermined by losing their top three batsmen inside the first three overs after being put into bat.
Deprived of hard-hitting opener Mal Loye after he twisted his back in the warm-up, Lancashire began their innings with prolific Australian batsman Stuart Law alongside Andrew Flintoff.
But their partnership lasted only three overs with Law caught at slip and Flintoff followed two overs later when he was run out after a mix-up with Brad Hodge.
The telling blow to Lancashire’s hopes was delivered two overs later with Hodge, who had smashed 32 off 19 balls including six fours, driving straight to extra cover and leave the Twenty20 favourites struggling on 52 for three.
It was left to the lesser names of Lancashire’s line-up to stabilise the innings with Steven Croft hammering 33 off 29 balls before being brilliantly caught behind by wicket-keeper Steve Adshead off seamer Carl Greenidge.
With captain Mark Chilton, who had dropped himself prior to Loye’s untimely injury, also falling for a scratchy 10, Lancashire were in danger of failing to even record a modest total.
But Dominic Cork and Glen Chapple, two of Lancashire’s most experienced cricketers, combined in a crucial 30-run partnership off only 23 balls which helped add 48 from the final five overs and at least gave their side a chance.
But Spearman quickly took the match away from Lancashire, who were forced to bring on prolific off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan in the fifth over just to try to stem his run flow.
Spearman hammered the first of his five sixes in only the third over off Anderson - it had taken Lancashire until the 19th over of their innings to hit their only six - and took the England seamer for 23 to give Gloucestershire an early impetus.
He lost opening partner Hamish Marshall when he drove Flintoff’s fifth delivery to Hodge at backward point, but then teamed up with Kadeer Ali to add 102 runs in only 12 overs.
By the time Spearman was out, chipping Muralitharan tamely to short mid-wicket, Gloucestershire needed only 12 runs for victory with four overs remaining, which they achieved with Kadeer finishing unbeaten on 33.