While many Warwickshire players claim to have the Bears at heart, few have taken it quite as literally as Stuart Eustace.
For the first time that Warwickshire?s newest wicketkeeper attended a Twenty20 Cup match it was in the role of one of the club?s mascots, Carmen The Bear. Now he is in the team for the first four Twenty20 Cup matches this season in place of Tony Frost, who has bruised hands.
?It was the hottest day of the year and I had to walk around the ground in a bear suit,? Eustace recalls. ?But it was the only way I could get some tickets for the game. It is amazing how quickly things have changed for me.?
While one may be tempted to suggest the club?s injury problems must be extreme if they need to play a former mascot in such an important match, that would be to underestimate Eustace.
He has made an excellent impression in second XI cricket since replacing the banned Keith Piper and the days spent working in offices ? or indeed inside bear suits ? have instilled a steel in Eustace.
He?s seen the other side and knows how privileged a life as a sportsman is. Currently contracted to only the end of the season, he is determined to succeed.
Andy Moles made a similarly late start to his professional career and became a Warwickshire great.
?I had given up on a career in first-class cricket,? Eustace says. ?But now I?m having a fantastic time. My game has really come on for playing and training every day and I?ve worked really hard on my batting.
?Every day I?m not in the office is a bonus. I know I?ve the ability and I?m hoping that over the next week or two I can prove I?m worthy of a longer-term contract.
?Obviously I thought I was going to spend the season playing club cricket for Dunstall, and now I could be facing Shoaib Akhtar in front of a full house at New Road, but that?s great.
"I?ll revel in the atmosphere of these games.?
Warwickshire?s one-day form has been patchy and, shorn of Ashley Giles, Naqaash Tahir and, for a portion of the competition Heath Streak, Mark Wagh and Dougie Brown (on Scottish duty from July 1), they will be fielding an attack short of experience and cutting edge, a dangerous combination. Wagh and Streak should be available next week.
The batting has also been inconsistent. Though Nick Knight remains one of the finest one-day batsmen in England, he has not been in his best form while the rest of the batsmen are still learning their trade at one-day level. The experience of Trevor Penney, who has damaged a hamstring and is expected to be out for about ten days, will be missed.
However, if Warwickshire can win at least a couple of the four away matches in the next week they should be in a decent position before their four home matches. In Neil Carter they possess a potential match-winner with bat and ball.
Everyone with the best interests of cricket at heart needs Twenty20 to succeed.
The signs are good: all 5,000 tickets have been sold for today?s match and Worcestershire?s match against Gloucestershire at New Road while wristband sales at Edgbaston (a #20 band affords entry to all four home games; #10 for children) are also impressive.
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With England at last giving the Australians a run for their money and Twenty20 enticing new supporters, cricketcan inspire another generation of supporters. With terrestrial television not showing cricket from next year it could be the game?s last opportunity to avoid a future as a minority sport.
Attendances at totesport League matches have dwindled in recent years but Twenty20 could well revive interest in the longer competition. The totesport League has suffered from a lack of marketing, with the authorities reluctant to spend money on a competition whose format is changing next season ? from 45 to 40 overs per side. Cricket?s marketing men will attempt to attract new spectators to totesport League matches (or will it be Forty40 cricket?).
There are a couple of major caveats to the competition?s success. One is the weather, which appears to be favouring us once again, but the other is the pitches. They must be fast and true, encouraging high-scoring matches.
WORCESTERSHIRE: S Moore, G Hick, B Smith, Z De Bruyn, D Leatherdale, S Peters, G Batty (capt.), D Mitchell, J Pipe (wkt.), R Price, N Malik. Twelfth man: S Davies.
WARWICKSHIRE: N Knight (capt), N Carter, I Bell, J Trott, J Troughton, M Powell, A Loudon, D Brown, S Eustace (wkt.), N Warren, D Pretorius. Twelfth man: I Westwood.