7/18/2018 0 Comments
By Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
"Championship Cricket is dying" is the word from the big wigs at the ECB, well tell that to the close to three-thousand fans who have attended each day of this Division Two game at Cheltenham: an encounter hosted by one of the lesser supported sides in the Division.
Day 2 was a bit of a curate’s egg. Gloucestershire’s top order has been in pretty desperate form and with the experienced Benny Howell being replaced for this game by the very inexperienced Miles Hammond – who boasts a high score in First Class cricket of 30 – you feared that the lower-middle order might have its usual repair job to do from a pretty desperate position. In contrast, on this occasion it was entirely the opposite: the top order ground Gloucestershire into a position of near impregnability against some very hostile fast bowling, before a late collapse changed the momentum of the match entirely. Forty minutes before Stumps, there was a genuine prospect that Sussex might manage but a single bowling point. At the Close, they were on the verge of obtaining all three and limiting the deficit to under 30.
While the day ended much better for Sussex than might have seemed possible, it was still a deeply disappointing day in the sense that, having left three batting bonus points out on the field on Day 1, Sussex can scarcely afford to leave bowling points out there too. They can get promoted with seven wins, *if* they make sure that there is a big haul of bonus points in every game and that means, making 300+ every game and, with such a powerful bowling line-up, ensuring all three bowling points. As it is, they had 19 balls to remove either David Payne or Gareth Roderick and get that third bowling point.
When a side is 295-3, already ahead and has two, set batsmen, with nine overs left to search for bonus points, you would normally reckon that the batting side has a 50-50 shot at its fourth batting point and the bowling side is going to end up with just one. That though is not the Gloucestershire way. How did we get here, you might ask?
Hammond and Dent came out against a hostile attack, and it was hostile. Jofra Archer clanged Miles Hammond a solid blow on the helmet in the morning session. Hammond took a short time out to be checked-out by the physio before continuing, while Jofra Archer seemed genuinely upset because the ball had been delivered with no malice but just took off. All the bowlers put in plenty of effort, and much of the bowling was genuinely quick but achieved scant reward. Had Chris Dent not been put down, early, from a dolly of a catch to Second Slip, things might have turned out differently but, as it was, the batsmen had few real scares and the score mounted, if only slowly. Landmarks were reached one after another: a boundary from Hammond and he passed his best First Class score and brought up the 50 partnership, and a boundary and a two from consecutive balls off Wiese took Hammond to fifty with Dent still only on 25. The century partnership was brought up with a bizarre six No Balls, as Archer let one go that beat everything; Dent was on 48 for 4 agonising overs before he hit Robinson for the boundary to bring up just his third fifty of the season and push his average over 25; another single to Hammond to bring up the 150.
Finally, just as Sussex must have wondered where they would find a wicket, Danny Briggs brought an end to the captain’s stone-walling innings. It was a record first wicket partnership – 182 – against Sussex. Hammond tip-toed through the nineties: 93 when Dent fell, he finally reached his maiden century with a boundary of Wiese, with 80 of his 103 runs coming in boundaries. Did Wiese notice that he had relaxed on reaching the landmark? Two balls later he got an edge through to ‘keeper, Ben Brown, and Wiese had a deserved wicket.
If Sussex thought that their travails were over, they were wrong. Bobby Bracey and Gareth Roderick avoided any further loss and bedded-in nicely. The new ball came and went, and Sussex were still a wicket away from that vital, first bowling point. There were few easy runs available – just look at Chris Jordan’s figures for the day of 21-6-39-1 – runs had to be sweated out, but that is just what Gloucestershire have not done all season. Up came the second batting point – unheard of riches!!! – And the question was: just how big would the lead be? Chris Jordan finally got a ball through Bracey, and he departed for 34. 259-3.
100 overs gone. 294-3. Third batting point a formality. Fourth a distinct possibility. Sussex being batted out of the game. Wiese to van Buuren. Bowled him! Little could the Sussex bowlers imagine what was about to happen. In came Drissell and four overs produced just three singles. Two overs to Stumps.
Archer with his final over of the day. He started it with 0-59 and bowled a triple-wicket maiden.
Drissell went second ball of the over after an 18-ball stay that produced just a single. Cleaned bowled.
In came Ryan Higgins. Also, clean bowled. Archer on a hat-trick.
Hat-trick ball. Noema-Barnett survives … only to edge through to Ben Brown next ball.
Gloucestershire fans on social media were tearing their hair out, those that had any to start with anyway.
In came Craig Miles to accompany a bewildered Gareth Roderick at the other end. Perhaps unwisely, Roderick took a single to the first ball of the last over despite the well-known fact that, as Lance Corporal Jones would tell you (in a parade ground whisper) that “he doesn’t like it up him”. A fired-up Ollie Robinson against a nervous Craig Miles was always likely to be on the level of Christians v Lions on a minefield at the Coliseum Oval. It took four balls for Robinson to produce a straight one on a good length and end the day’s play, one ball early.
So, we got to Day 3, 303-8. The lead 17. Sussex with 19 balls left to get that bowling bonus point and complete the humiliation.
It was brief, and it was embarrassing. Three singles. Seventeen balls. Gloucestershire 306ao. The lead 20. And the Shire had lost seven wickets for just 12 runs in 53 balls. 4-62 for Jofra Archer. 2-67 for Ollie Robinson who, when they started their spell, had 0-59 and 0-61 respectively.
Sussex batted again and really wanted to get the lead without losing a wicket. A measure of Ryan Higgins’ rise in status since arriving was that in the first game against Kent, Ryan Higgins started as fifth seamer playing only a very minor bit part but, now, is usually opening the bowling ahead of the express-pace Taylor and Craig Miles who has gone on an England Performance Tour. It was he who made the breakthrough, bowling Salt for 9: 16-1. Next over, David Payne had Luke Wells edging through to Roderick: 22-2, just two ahead, and Sussex in deep trouble again, as if the Gloucestershire collapse had never happened. However, Harry Finch and Luke Wright came out with all guns blazing, first putting a severe dent in the figures of Ryan Higgins – he conceded as many in the eighth and final over of his spell as he had in his first seven and then tucking into Taylor, Miles and Drissell with a boundary almost every over.
At Lunch, it was 103-2. The lead was 83, and Luke Wright was on 48 from just 53 balls. The resemblance to the Sussex first innings cavalry charge was considerable. Against the second ball after Lunch, before getting his eye back in, Wright went after Payne and could only send the ball straight to a grateful Ryan Higgins. 103-3 and the match was back in the balance. Four overs later, David Payne bowled an absolute pearler of a delivery at new batsman, Michael Burgess and bowled him. Payne now had 3-28, and the lead was merely 99. The direction of the match was giving another lurch.
Once again though, a cluster of wickets was followed by a partnership as Ben Brown and Harry Finch dug in, although the positivity in the batting made it obvious that Sussex did not plan to die wondering: win or lose, they had no plans to get a draw that would not be too much use to them. The partnership reached 61 and Gloucestershire were, again, under the cosh, with the bat dominating, when Matt Taylor got one through Brown and won an LBW decision. Again, a partnership started to build between Finch and Wiese. Finch was set for a wonderful, possibly match-winning century, when he edged the rather expensive Craig Miles through to ‘keeper Roderick, two short. Then Wiese, who gave Gloucestershire no end of problems in the early season fixture at Hove, came together with Chris Jordan and pushed the lead past 200 and towards 250 before Miles pulled-off what has been described as the catch of the season to remove Wiese off the bowling of Higgins. Then, soon after, Payne castled Archer, the match was swinging back to Gloucestershire, but only if they could finish off the tail.
This was “Operation Winkle” – the battle between the will of the batsmen to survive and the won’t let them build a lead of the bowlers. As the lead grew, Sussex were obviously thinking of getting 300 ahead and declaring to allow themselves a bite at the openers before the Close. The stand between Jordan and Robinson was getting alarming when Craig Miles got Jordan to nick behind and then, in the next over; Matt Taylor got Robinson. The lead was 275, and that was probably the best thing that could happen. Gloucestershire had 15 overs to survive and a tempting target. Sussex had 111 overs to take ten wickets of a Gloucestershire that, this season, has shown all the stability of a blancmange.
Dent and Hammond set out confidently against Robinson and Archer. Ben Brown brought Chris Jordan into the attack early, and the change paid dividends as Archer took two quick wickets. First Chris Dent edged through to Ben Brown and then, in Archer’s next over, first innings hero, Hammond fell the same way. Gloucestershire were 27-2 and in deep trouble. Here, Gloucestershire did something that left one blinking with surprise. Having seen the tail blown away on the second evening, Drissell and Taylor were sent out as a double night-watchman, presumably in the pious hope that they would do better at the second attempt. Unbelievably, David Payne was padded-up to bat if either fell, in an unprecedented TRIPLE night-watchman policy. Gloucestershire fans were speechless.
Payne was not needed. Drissell and Taylor saw out the remaining overs and, at 30-2, the match has leant towards Sussex again.
With scores of 286, 306 & 295 and wickets falling in clusters, you would expect a large partnership at some point and a tight finish. We will see tomorrow if we get it. Hats off to Sussex who have turned this game on its head in the last three and a half sessions.
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