By Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
Sussex won in a dramatic finish as Gloucestershire fell just short of the line, despite James “Bobby” Bracey’s 87. And for the fourth consecutive day, Cheltenham had a large and appreciative crowd that enjoyed a tense day’s cricket as the pattern of clusters of wickets, and large partnerships were repeated.
The inevitable result of the Gloucestershire double-night-watchman policy was that they were likely to find themselves a traumatic 40-4 early on the fourth morning. In fact, the reality was even worse: 38-4, as Archer and Robinson divvied-up the freebie night-watchmen. Ollie Robinson was the first to tuck-in, taking Matt Taylor for 3 (36-3) and then Jofra Archer got George Drissell for 5 (38-4) – all four wickets caught behind by Ben Brown.
At this point, the Sussex fans were sporting big grins and thinking of the 20-point win that would see them leapfrog Leicestershire in third in Division 2, while the Gloucestershire fans were hiding behind the sofa and wondering about 60 all out. One, presumably Sussex fan said, before play, that Gloucestershire would make “150 tops”. In the fan poll overnight, of 18 votes, 14 went for the Sussex win, 3 for a Gloucestershire win and 1 for the tie. It was hard to disagree that Sussex had to be favourites, but one somewhat expected a few twists and turns on the way.
This game has featured big partnerships and clusters of wickets, and there was a strong likelihood that there would be at least one significant partnership as the most in-form batsmen were yet to come. That was, indeed, what happened. Bobby Bracey and Gareth Roderick stabilised the patient and, slowly, whittled down the target. First, the batsmen got past halfway in the chase. Then Bobby Bracey passed 50 for the third time this season. Then Gareth Roderick reached his own 50 – his third of the season, although Bracey had converted the previous two into centuries. The Sussex body language started to deteriorate. There were some horrible miss-fields. Suddenly the desperation for a wicket started to show. Then Roderick took a sudden liking to Wiese, and consecutive balls went for 4 and then a towering six over Luke Wright’s head on the boundary edge. Incredibly, although Sussex had to be favourites still, Gloucestershire were back in the game.
The target reached 100. Bracey and Roderick were batting like a million dollars. It seemed too good to be true for the Gloucestershire fans, now starting to peak over the back of the sofa. Then, disaster. Luke Wright pulled-off a brilliant, diving stop; a frustrated Roderick then tried to hit Danny Briggs and was castled. Suddenly the energy was back in the Sussex team, and Jofra Archer was champing at the bit, but Ben Brown, possibly wrongly, kept him away from the ball. Given that Graeme van Buuren has averaged just 22 this season and looked vulnerable, it seemed a strange decision although, in the end, it turned out not to matter. The bowlers were quick, they were putting in a lot of effort but maybe did not make the batsmen play enough. It was tense again, but the threat seemed to be missing, but there was a feeling that if one wicket were to fall, several would fall quickly and that is how it turned out.
The elephant in the stable was the new ball. It would be available at around Tea and Gloucestershire desperately needed to conserve wickets, and to knock-off, the majority of the runs before the new cherry got into the lethal Mr Archer’s hands. Van Buuren took a boundary off Chris Jordan thanks to a horrible miss-field from Jofra Archer but offered a catch next ball which Harry Finch pouched nervously. 79 to win. Just four wickets left. Ryan Higgin in and only Kieron Noema-Barnett of the recognised batsmen to come to support Bobby Bracey, who was still there on 64*.
Ryan Higgins has been the go-to bowler for Gloucestershire this season and has also scored some useful runs. Today he needed to put on his Superman cape again if Gloucestershire were to get close. Higgins started confidently, with three boundaries, before feathering a catch behind to Ben Brown off Jofra Archer. Five catches to Ben Brown and this one, probably the most vital. It was noticeable though how many of the Gloucestershire batsmen were caught that way down the leg side And, that was Jofra Archer’s one hundredth First Class wicket at an excellent average of 25.2. 61 to win. Bracey 70* and the legend that is Kieron Noema-Barnett the last hope for Gloucestershire. Archer with figures of 15.3-6-23-4. Surely now Gloucestershire would die quietly. Sussex though were not making the batsmen play, and the target crept below 50. Then below 40, helped by a wild delivery from Archer that flew way over KNB’s head, over Ben Brown’s head and flew to the boundary for four byes.
With Tea approaching and the new ball due three overs after, Ollie Robinson bowled one down the leg side to KNB. KNB got a tickle – yet another leg-side strangle. Ben Brown took his sixth catch of the innings (equalling the Sussex record) and confusion reigned as players and umpires tried to work out if it was Tea, while there was also a suggestion that the dismissal was off a no-ball that had not been called and it seemed as if Noema-Barnett was told by the umpires not to walk. The dismissal was confirmed. 34 to win. Bracey 86*, but only Miles and Payne to come. Miles has 5x50, averages 17.6 and has a best score in First Class cricket of 62*, but does not like quick bowling at all and even less, short fast bowling. Miles against the new ball would be a catch-weight contest: what would James Bracey do on the resumption? Unfortunately, the decision was taken out of his hands as Craig Miles pinched the strike twice with singles before being given out LBW to Ollie Robinson with 32 still needed. Miles was evidently unhappy with the dismissal, swishing his bat angrily and showing obvious dissent.
The new ball was taken immediately. David Payne took a single, second ball and then James Bracey, who had to go for quick runs, went for a big hit and Danny Briggs took a brilliant low catch at Deep Square Leg. Bracey was out for 87. Sussex won by 28 runs, and a distraught Bracey left the field to a standing ovation from the fielders and a large and appreciative crowd: it was the first time this season that he has reached 50 and not converted. The heroes of the day though were Jofra Archer with 21-8-29-4 and Ollie Robinson, with 22.3-3-49-4 and, of course, Ben Brown with his six catches.
Sussex move onto 99 points, 13 behind Kent and leapfrog Leicestershire into third in Division 2, while the consolation prize for Gloucestershire, who got closer to the win than anyone dared to hope, was to edge ahead of Glamorgan in the battle for the wooden spoon.
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