George Dobell on contrasting tales of what it means to be a first-class cricketer...
Roger Sillence's tale should encourage all club cricketers. His professional career appeared to have run aground after some fallow years and, aged closer to 30 than 20, his future looked to be in the recreational game.
Perseverance brought its rewards, however. Sillence refused to accept that he wasn't good enough, redoubled his efforts, worked hard and signed a two-year deal with Worcestershire at the end of last summer as a 28-year-old.
He earned himself another chance largely through consistent all-round performances with Barnt Green in the Birmingham League.
Under the captaincy of Richard Illingworth, the former England Test spin bowler and Worcestershire all-rounder, Sillence was a key player as the team won the Premier Division title and were finalists in the national and Birmingham League knock-out competitions.
It is a lesson that should be absorbed by all club players who think their chance may have gone. The counties monitor success in the Birmingham League and consistent performances in what is generally considered to be the strongest league in the country will be noticed.
"Things went really well at Barnt Green," Sillence told The Post as he reported for duty at New Road for the first time this week.
"The Birmingham League really is quite a high standard and it helped that I was opening the bowling and batting high up the order."
Sillence finished the season fourth in both the League's batting and bowling averages and, partly on the recommendation of Illingworth, agreed to join Worcestershire.
"'Illy' was really enthusiastic about Worcestershire and I have a lot to thank him for," he said. "There was a great camaraderie at Barnt Green and I enjoyed playing for them.
I'm still registered for them but, to be honest and in the best possible way, I hope I don't have quite so much time to play League cricket."
Sillence was strangely overlooked over the last couple of seasons by a Gloucestershire side in free-fall. He has played surprisingly little cricket for a man of his age and ability; only 13 first-class and seven one-day matches, most of them at Minor Counties level, in a career that began in 1999. That's comparable with teenager Steven Davies.
It's not as if he hasn't enjoyed success, either. He took a five-wicket haul on his Championship debut against Sussex in 2001, and has scored a first-class century (on his home debut against Derbyshire). He scored 92 against Warwickshire late in the 2004 season in one of only two first-team innings he had all season. Last season, he played in only one first-team match.
"Things were frustrating at times at Gloucestershire," he says. "But I was competing for an all-rounder's position with the likes of [Australian] Ian Harvey, Mark Alleyne and Alex Gidman; that's pretty tough.
"I hope I've shown some character to fight back from that. I hope I've shown that I'm prepared to give everything, to work hard and learn from these things.
"I spent the winter playing and coaching grade cricket in Melbourne, which was good as i t meant I had extra responsibility.
"I was also lucky to be part of the Gloucestershire squad that had that amazing run of success in one-day cricket. I learned a great deal during that time and if [county coach] Steve Rhodes feels that I'm able to help, I'll be happy to talk to the lads [at New Road] about that.
"This is a massive opportunity for me. I know that. I'm so grateful for the club giving me this chance and I'm deter-mined to repay their faith."
It will not be easy for Sillence. A hard-hitting middle-order batsman and hit-thedeck fast-medium bowler, he will undoubtedly add depth to the squad but may require injuries and international call-ups to break into the first team.
He has earned his chance, however, and many a Birmingham League opponent will be keeping a keen eye on his fortunes.
At the other end of the spectrum, in terms of experience anyway, is Graeme Hick. He may be the oldest player in county cricket but Hick's enthusiasm for the game is undiminished.
Hick, who becomes 40 on May 23, is about to embark on his 23rd season in county cricket and says: "I don't find it at all difficult to motivate myself. I love this time of year. I still find it exciting and I'm really looking forward to it.
"There do seem to be a lot of young faces in the dressingroom this year [of the rest of the squad, only 32-year-old Matt Mason and Ben Smith, 34 next month, are over 30]. I don't think that's just because I'm that bit older, I do think we have a young, exciting squad.
"In the past there have always been a few guys in their mid-30s but now there's quite a big gap between me and the rest. It certainly isn't definitely my last season. I'm a bit disappointed that it's even an issue; I'm not thinking about it."
He has a point. When Hick started his career, county cricket was full of 40-somethings; Pat Pocock, Dennis Amiss, Norman Gifford and Ray Illingworth (who was well into his 50s) to name but a few.
"I suppose there is much more emphasis on fitness than there was," Hick says, "but that's an area I've always enjoyed and I kept myself ticking over through the winter. I feel good."
"He's the fittest of the lot of us," team-mate Ray Price says. "Really. He's in amazing shape. No one is fitter."
Yet Hick suffered the most prolonged slump of his remarkable career last season. He went 24 first-class innings (44 if you include one-day cricket) without a century, including four 'ducks' in five innings. By his lofty standards, that's grim indeed.
The easy explanation was that age had caught up with him but Hick believes that is nonsense.
"Perhaps I was stuck in the crease a few times, and perhaps I received a few good balls," he says. "It was just one of those things, really. I didn't feel particularly out of form but I was pleased to finish the season with a century and hopefully put it all behind me."