7/15/2018 0 Comments
By Mark Kidger (@MarkFromMadrid)
We have a single, orphan County Championship game this week in the middle of a block of T20 Blast. Given the fact that players have had problems in the past with the sudden T20 – Championship – T20 switch, the best advice is to expect the unexpected in this game. The reason for this scheduling is the Cheltenham Festival, with its traditional Championship fixture and two T20 Blast games.
Gloucestershire host Sussex, with both sides having played a game fewer than the rest of the sides in Division 2. This fixture then marks the exact halfway point of the Division 2 season, with all teams having played seven games when it ends.
The two teams arrive in very different states of mind. After winning their opening fixture against Kent and then seeing the final day of the game against Sussex abandoned when both sides thought that they could win, Gloucestershire have suffered a nosedive in form, due in no small measure to the loss of almost their entire first-choice seam attack to injury: for a team with a small playing staff, this has been a grievous loss. Add the non-availability of Michael Klinger as his wife battled – it seems, at this moment, successfully – cancer and it is no surprise that Gloucestershire have suffered. Bottom of the Championship and with a top-order that has struggled for runs all season, the only bright light at the end of the tunnel has come in the form of three consecutive Blast wins, in which the calm captaincy of Michael Klinger has been vital. In contrast, Sussex, after a slow start, have wins in two of their last three Championship fixtures and are hovering in fourth place in Division 2, 34 points behind Kent and at the fringes of the promotion race. In the Blast, Sussex are second in the South Group with three wins from 4 and a healthy NRR.
Sussex know that they cannot afford to lose any more ground to the top two in the Division who are racing away from the rest. For Sussex, this is a “must-win” and, preferably, a “must win big” game as even a maximum points draw would leave them in fourth and with a substantial gap to bridge to the promotion places. Last season, Northants missed-out on promotion with eight wins, suggesting that Sussex need, most likely, six wins from eight games to go up.
The following hypothetical situation illustrates Sussex's problems to link up with the front units of the promotion train: a maximum points win for Gloucestershire would move them from bottom up to 5th; a maximum points win for Sussex would move them only above Leicestershire, into 3rd, still ten points and two wins behind Kent.
It is a measure of how out of place this fixture is that the Blast completely dominates this stage of the season that the Gloucestershire webpage and Social Media are still dominated by news of Friday’s win against Somerset: barely a hint that there will be a Championship game tomorrow.
Dent (c), Hammond, Bracey, Roderick, van Buuren, Higgins, Noema-Barnett, Miles, Payne, M.Taylor, Drissell
26. Ben Brown (capt. & wk), 22. Jofra Archer, 18. Will Beer, 21. Danny Briggs, 5. Michael Burgess, 6. Harry Finch, 8. Chris Jordan, 9. Delray Rawlins, 25. Ollie Robinson, 28. Phil Salt, 31. Luke Wells, 96. David Wiese, 10. Luke Wright
The big news for Sussex is that they can play Jofra Archer and Chris Jordan together for the first time this season, adding potency to their attack. Laurie Evans pulled a hamstring in Friday’s Blast defeat v Surrey, and Tom Haines received a blow to the head in training and has not been considered. The Sussex XIII covers all bases with two spinners, although I suspect that Will Beer and Luke Wright will miss out, with Sussex going for a potent pace attack, supported by Danny Briggs.
For Gloucestershire, David “Sid” Payne has been bowling in the Blast and seems completely recovered from the injury that required an ankle operation pre-season, but although Liam Norwell is getting close to a return to 1st XI action, but still not ready to return. Payne plays his first First Class match of the season and, for a side with such limited resources, this is good news. Various of the 1st XI have been getting a reviving run-transfusion in the 2nd XI this week, although captain, Chris Dent’s, form is a concern, although he scored runs against Lancashire 2nd XI, as did several more of the batsmen, although the shadow attack conceded over 600. With Benny Howell still injured, Miles Hammond comes into the XI and will open in his place. George Hankins has a “knee problem” and misses out, while Craig Miles replaces Chris Liddle in the squad, giving an attack which still looks much less threatening than the Sussex line-up, but has a distinctly less pop-gun appearance.
The Cheltenham wicket tends to have pace and bounce for the bowlers and it as well to remember that when Glamorgan played there last season, 25 wickets fell in a day, suggesting that it could be a low-scoring, result encounter.
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