Hamish Marshall leads Gloucestershire to Friends Life t20 win over Worcestershire
GLOUCESTERSHIRE'S decision to award Hamish Marshall the captaincy for this season's Friends Life t20 competition appears to be an inspired move.
Having blasted the Gladiators to a stunning victory over Somerset at Taunton last week, the New Zealander followed up with a brilliant 72 at Bristol to help his rejuvenated team beat Midlands/Wales/West Group leaders Worcestershire by seven wickets.
He was aided and abetted by new overseas signing Ed Cowan, the Australia A skipper, who contributed 70 from 49 balls and shared in a match-winning second-wicket stand of 142 in 15 overs to blow the qualifying group wide open.
Gloucestershire are now just one point behind Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Somerset and victories in their final two matches, against the Bears at Edgbaston tonight and Northants at Wantage Road on Sunday, will put them into the quarter-finals for the first time since 2007.
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If Cowan's debut performance delighted the Nevil Road audience, it was Marshall's innings that really broke Worcestershire's resolve as the Gladiators chased down a victory target of 160 with 12 balls to spare.
Standing in for Alex GIdman as captain, the Kiwi led by example, smashing Worcestershire's stunned bowlers in an innings that included six fours and one six.
However, Marshall owed a huge debt of gratitude to James Cameron, who dropped what should have been a straightforward catch on the square leg boundary when the New Zealander had scored just 14 to leave David Lucas utterly frustrated.
Recalling the moment of his let-off, Marshall admitted: "That changed the game. I had a bit of luck and then made the most of it. That is the nature of Twenty20.
"We were already one wicket down and, had that chance stuck, we would have been under pressure and it would have been an uphill struggle. But Ed was superb in his first game and showed why he has been posting some big numbers in Australia."
Cowan took his time to find his touch, but when he did, the Tasmania left-hander demonstrated his obvious class. He struck nine fours and two sixes to see his new team safely home after Marshall had been bowled by Daryl Mitchell in the 16th over with just 17 more needed.
In contrast, Worcestershire's innings was initially an uninspiring affair on a typically low and slow Bristol pitch and the tone was set when big-hitting dangerman Moeen Ali departed in the first over, driving and missing a ball from Ian Saxelby that clipped off stump.
Just as they did against Somerset at Taunton the previous week, the Gladiators took wickets during the powerplay. Australian left-hander Phil Hughes succumbed to frustration and drove straight to mid-on to gift Liam Norwell only his second t20 victim.
Despite those early successes, the home side were unable to build meaningful pressure, let down as they were on occasions by erratic new ball bowling and slipshod fielding.
At least Gloucestershire's spinners managed to adhere to the game-plan, Muttiah Muralitharan and Ed Young bowling in tandem for eight overs in the middle of the innings that yielded just 44 runs and saw off former England star Vikram Solanki.
James Cameron and Gareth Andrew set about redressing the balance in a stand of 35 in five overs for the fourth wicket.
But real acceleration materialised only when Mitchell arrived in the middle and smashed 31 runs from 13 balls, including half-a-dozen fours.
Aided and abetted by some ordinary bowling from Gloucestershire's young seamers, Worcestershire finished with a flourish, plundering 55 runs from the last four overs.
Former Somerset batsman Andrew top-scored with 43 from 26 ball in an innings adorned by four fours and a brace of sixes.
Gloucestershire's reply suffered an early setback, Benny Howell departing without troubling the scorers, but Marshall and Cowan took charge in spectacular fashion to thrill Bristol's biggest crowd of the season.