Gloucestershire 354 and 149 for 8 lead Worcestershire 293 (Whiteley 88, D’Oliveira 68, Higgins 3-52, Bamber 3-59, Payne 3-73) by 210 runs
Tell a friend that you have just watched a day’s cricket in which 211 runs were scored in 94 overs and he will probably sympathise with you. But if you tell him that you have done so at Cheltenham, he will suspect your day has had its compensations and he will be quite correct. There was no suggestion of tedium at the College Ground this afternoon as two sides tussled for advantage in a match which will be crucial to their promotion prospects.
When play was ended two overs early by a brief shower of rain Worcestershire’s cricketers could look back on three sessions in which they had restricted Gloucestershire’s first-innings lead to 61 and then taken eight wickets for 149 runs on a day when the home side’s batting had been rather profligate. But it is Gloucestershire who have the 210-run lead and it is their opponents who have found batting something of a trial recently. No one at the College Ground thought of clapping slowly. And yes, there were those other compensations, features which many think extraneous to the matter in hand but which cricket lovers recognise as inseparable from their summer.
Even before play started the blue hills were thickly gauzed in heat. The trees barely moved all day but the counties’ flags fluttered gently in a soft remnant of breeze. The temperature rose and a Range Rover’s alarm went off repeatedly, suggesting it might be thermostat-controlled. Spectators on the back rows of stands hoisted gaily coloured umbrellas to protect themselves. The marquees were crammed with corporate customers and two were made available to the public seeking shade during lunch.
For Worcestershire’s tailenders, though, there was no respite from the sun and nor did they desire one. The visitors had seemed likely to concede a deficit of around a hundred when they lost three wickets in the first eight overs of the day but Joe Leach and Adam Finch then batted in some comfort for the next 94 minutes, reducing Gloucestershire’s lead to 61 runs, which worried home supporters, and even delaying lunch, which alarmed them even nearly as much. Finch was hit on the helmet and body by David Payne but was unbeaten on a modest 8 when Leach played on to Ryan Higgins for 38. And it felt as though the Worcestershire skipper’s innings had put a marker down.
Such a feeling was well-founded. The early afternoon’s cricket brought Gloucestershire no relief. Leach nipped the third ball of the innings away from Chris Dent and had the home skipper caught behind for nought. Worse followed in the tenth over when Wayne Parnell knocked out Roderick’s off stump with a ball that kept so low that had it been bowled in T20, the disappointed batsman may have walked off the College Ground with “Subterranean Homesick Blues” playing over the loudspeakers.
Gloucestershire’s decline continued. Miles Hammond remained rooted to the crease when leg before to Ed Barnard and another near grubber from Parnell cleaned up James Bracey. At that point the home side had a lead of just 108.
It was mid-afternoon. The wicketkeeper, Ben Cox, and his slips, Riki Wessels and Daryl Mitchell, all sported wide-brimmed sunhats in a fashion which recalled the age of I Zingari and Free Foresters. Yet this was hard-fought professional cricket in the 21st century and one became aware, yet again, by how very precious festivals like Cheltenham are. Such reveries were interrupted or perhaps enhanced by a flurry of strokes from Higgins, who drove Finch to the boundary without mercy when the freshman bowler overpitched. Indeed, Higgins scored 27 in the space of nine balls before departing for 36 when he flashed flat-footedly at Dillon Pennington and nicked a catch to Wessels at first slip.
That dismissal ended what was by far Gloucestershire’s most abundant period of the day. The following 32.4 overs saw only 46 runs scored as Tom Smith and Jack Taylor sought to ground out a defendable total. Every run was cheered by anxious home supporters who could see their chance of victory slipping away. Paolo’s ice-cream vans did plenty of business as did Camper Vin. Ed won one raffle prize and Steven won some wine. The microphone in the Circles to Success tent was in such robust order that everyone in the ground knew about it. Nobody minded.
Taylor and Smith were probably apprehensive as to when their number would be up but their wickets did not fall until the last hour of play when both had made useful twenties. Smith fenced Parnell to slip and Taylor edged a cut off Barnard to Cox. Then Benny Howell rather summed up Gloucestershire’s fortunes when he slapped a full toss from Brett D’Oliveira to mid-on. A slow day? Not at all. Days at the College Ground pass with the speed of a swift in flight over the Cotswolds.