Gloucestershire 235 (Barnard 6-42) and 115 for 4 (Shaw 38*, Hammond 35*) beat Worcestershire 221 (Wessels 72, Higgins 4-55) and 128 (Higgins 4-34) by six wickets
After 14 consecutive seasons playing in Division Two of the County Championship, Gloucestershire are so close now to ending that exile that it would be a surprise were they not feeling nervous about what is at stake in what remains of the season.
It showed at the end of day two here. Faced, after a match that had unfolded at breakneck speed, with a target of just 115 runs to record a fourth win in five, they stumbled nervously to 44 for 4.
Needing another 61 on a glorious third morning, all of the Gloucestershire players gathered in a huddle on the outfield before not-out batsmen Miles Hammond and Josh Shaw resumed their innings. It was, head coach Richard Dawson said, more a moment of reaffirmation of goals rather than anything more specific.
It worked. Some 51 minutes later, and with Hammond and nightwatchman Shaw still in the middle, the job was done.
“Last night got a bit tense and I suppose it is the situation of the season that creates that tension,” Dawson said. “If it was the first game of the season we would probably just go out and take it for just what it is. That (the huddle) settled the nerves a bit and after that we just went out and did the job.”
Dawson suspects he may be finding the denouement of the season a more difficult experience than his players, as he realises his unspoken goal as coach is now within his team’s grasp. He spoke of aiming only to see year-on-year improvement since he took up his position in 2015 but that progression would logically result in a chance to achieve something tangible at some point and that moment has been reached. What’s more, it is in Gloucestershire’s hands. The chase for the two promotion places still up for grabs remained a four-way affair as Dawson conducted his post-match interviews, but should they beat Northamptonshire at Bristol next week, one of those places is theirs, guaranteed.
“We wanted to take control and take the table out of it over the final matches of the season and that is what we have done,” he said. “I’m not looking at any other county’s results but if it does come down to us needing to win next week it might be me who is more tense than the players because as coach you just sit there and you can’t do anything.
“I will encourage the players to draw on what we have achieved today and understand that it is just another game of cricket. It is a great opportunity, it is exciting, but nothing to worry about. It is just what you have done, your work for over a number of seasons, to be in this position. But we have some very positive lads in the dressing room who are embracing the opportunity. We have not been in this situation for a long time.”
Dawson has a long association with Gloucestershire, having taken a job as spin coach in 2008, returning as head coach to succeed John Bracewell after a brief stint coaching Yorkshire’s Second XI. The current team, he says, is the best under his charge.
“These players have been developing over a number of years, but that is your job as a coach is to improve the players and I suppose that is what we have seen,” he said.
“I’m never happy. You always want to do better. Our goal is just to improve season on season, in terms of points gained or positions attained. But we have some skilful cricketers and we knew that if we could get them into good form and keep them in good form, then the results would look after themselves and this season we have shown some consistency.”
None more so than Ryan Higgins, the all-rounder Gloucestershire signed from Middlesex in 2017, who is close to achieving a notable double of 50 wickets, which he already has, and 1,000 first-class runs, which he would hope to reach next week, with just another 43 required.
“I knew Ryan from working with the England Under-19s,” Dawson said. “He always had a bit of fight in him, always a combative player, and he showed that quality in the first innings here when he batted, putting pressure on the opposition
“He is skilful lad with a great attitude and his influence in the dressing has been huge. He could always bat, but where he has got better since he came here is in building an innings and playing the situation.
“As well as Ryan, we have David Payne doing very well with the new ball, Chris Dent up top and Jimmy Bracey has come into a bit of form. We’ve got players who are doing the job. Now we have one more game left, four more days of cricket. We just have to keep going.”