7/16/2018 0 Comments
By Mark Kidger (@MarkfromMadrid)
Day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival has produced an excellent day of cricket with a series of twists and turns on the way. There was mayhem in the corresponding game last year when Glamorgan were the guests: 25 wickets fell on the first day, the highest innings total of the match was 158 and the game ended long before the end of the second day.
Not unexpectedly, Sussex went with a seam-based attack, supported by Danny Briggs: Will Beer missed out. Gloucestershire gave George Drissell, a nineteen-year-old off-spinner, just his third First Class start and still without a wicket, to back their own five seamers. Comparing the two sides on paper, you wondered how many of the host’s XI would get into the opposition team – the betting was that it would be one or two at most.
Seeing a hard, dry surface that seemed full of runs, both sides wanted to bat. Sussex won the Toss and set off at a furious pace. Those who know the Shire well looked at the home attack and started to hide behind the sofa: this sort of opening is usually the prelude to a massive total by the opposition, followed by a Gloucestershire collapse and a follow-on 300+ behind. Matt Taylor’s third over went for 14, and the good work of David Payne at one end (4-2-5-0) was being brutally counterbalanced by Taylor’s 3-0-25-0. There was only one thing to do and, as has been Gloucestershire’s won't increasingly this season, the cry went out from the captain for Ryan Higgins. The immediate result was to slow the flow of runs – four of Higgins’ first seven overs were maidens and, although no wicket fell, pressure and frustration started to increase in the batsmen. Craig Miles relieved David Payne and, although he gave the batsmen something to hit, he also made the breakthrough as Luke Wells gave a catch to Graeme van Buuren. The opening stand was 74 and beginning to look really threatening and that wicket desperately needed. After a nightmare 2017, Craig Miles, so highly rated beforehand, has 17 wickets at 27.7 as of the Close today and is bowling so much better again; today he had one of his best days for two years.
In his very next over, Miles bowled Phil Salt for 57 from 54 balls: both openers had fallen in just ten deliveries, and the scoreboard looked so much better. It was to get better still. On came the popular Kieron Noema-Barnett – incredibly, top of the Gloucestershire batting averages this season – to bowl a tight first over. Craig Miles got six balls at Luke Wright, slightly surprisingly retained despite modest returns this season. The first ball of the over was hammered to the boundary but, after four dots, Wright obligingly chipped to Bobby Bracey, and Miles was guarding figures of 7-1-31-3. When you win the Toss and bat, losing three wickets in the morning means that you have probably lost the session, but things were to get worse: last over before Lunch, the legend that is Kieron Noema-Barnett trundled in. The moment brilliantly described by Sir Robert Hunt in person:
“Optimistic shout from Noema-Barnett. That will never be given.
[Two beat pause] Oh! [Voice rising almost to hysteria] He’s given it!”
Thank you, Sir Robert. When we are looking for an umpire for the elite panel, we’ll give you a call!
Lunch called at 97-4, and a bewildering turnaround had taken place. In one ball fewer than seven overs, Sussex had slid from a comfortable 74-0 to a somewhat precarious position. However, as Adrian Harms pointed out from the Sussex end of the commentary box, only Jofra Archer of the Sussex XI was missing a First Class century. In other words, he warned Bob Hunt to: “fear men of Hove, even when they offer easy wickets”.
For close to two hours, Adrian Harms’ words seemed to presage the recurring Gloucestershire nightmare of getting rid of the top order and then not being able to finish the job; that nightmare seemed to be coming back to haunt them once again. Chris Dent tried Ryan Higgins. He tried Kieron Noema-Barnett. The stand between Finch and Brown, presumably using kryptonite-encrusted bats, grew and grew. The ball was old and soft, and the two spinners had not bowled a ball. Did Chris Dent remember that George Drissell was on the field? Had Graeme van Buuren refused to pass him the ketchup over lunch and thus been consigned to Purgatory? Or was it that the inviting, short leg-side boundary just scared the life out of him? Finally, possibly by accident, the ball was passed to the former. First over: two singles and not a leg-side six to be seen. Tight over from Kieron Noema-Barnett: just a leg-bye and a single. Maiden from Drissell. A loose ball from KNB, slapped to the boundary before the strait-jacket was tightened again. Captain Ben Brown decided that enough was enough and tried to launch Drissell into orbit but only lifted the ball as far as Ryan Higgins at Mid-On. Higgins had to be involved somewhere although, long after, the identity of the fielder who took the catch – Higgins or van Buuren – was still being debated! A partnership of 113 was ended, and Gloucestershire had an opening. Sussex though still had Finch, Wiese, Jordan and Archer and had the platform for a total in the range 350 to 400… if they batted with care.
Cricket though knows no logic. There is a feeling that there are few things more embarrassing than giving your wicket to Kieron Noema-Barnett, but it was KNB, a worthy successor to David Shepherd as Gloucestershire anti-athlete, who twisted the knife. In he trundled. Wiese, who had possibly just got bored waiting for the ball to arrive from the bowlers hand, missed it and KNB had his second LBW. He must have imagined that the batsmen thought that it was his birthday! [Note to Sussex batsmen: his birthday was on June 4th, but he would like to point out that further, late gifts will not be refused].
In came Chris Jordan. “Jordan will fancy Drissell” opined Sir Robert Hunt on commentary. Six balls later Jordan was caught by Noema-Barnett off Drissell for a duck! Let’s just say that neither commentator covered himself with glory with his punditry today, while the “third voice”, only known by his initials of “DT”, limited his efforts on the mic to sound effects, by munching on a packet of crisps right behind Mssrs Harms and Hunt! Yes, it was one of those days when the commentary was fun and the cricket, at times, plain daft to accompany it. This is Division 2 at its best: enjoying the more relaxed pace and being competitive, but not taking itself too seriously.
Back came Matt Taylor, whose first six overs had gone for 44. Life is rarely dull when Matt Taylor has the ball. Sussex’s hopes of 300+ lay with Harry Finch. Finch hit the ball straight back at Taylor, Taylor pouched it gratefully and, from being 210-4 and things looking pretty grim for the Shire, suddenly it was 236-8, and the grim was with Sussex. What is more, Matt Taylor, having started with 6-0-44-0, had returned with 8-4-16-1: the buffet at the Taylor end was, most definitely, closed.
Not for nothing though do Sussex bat down to #11. Archer and Robinson got their eye in and then decided to cash in. Drissell, who had been guarding the remarkable figures of 7-1-15-2, came in for some punishment. The second batting point came, and a third seemed to be approaching at express pace. Drissell was relieved, his last three overs costing 23 and Miles and Payne brought back. Even if it was Craig Miles who bowled the ball, today there was, but one man who could make the breakthrough as the Sussex tail sought to right the ship: Jofra Archer went for one hit too many and dear old Kieron Noema-Barnett pouched the catch. Out went Archer for 21 and, with him, remaining hopes of reaching 300. Payne bowled a straight one at Danny Briggs, pinned him, and the innings was over for 286 when, one suspects, Sussex were thinking of 450+ as their target batting first.
The day though still had ample opportunity to go pear-shaped for Gloucestershire. Of the batsmen playing today, only Kieron Noema-Barnett (who else?), Bobby Bracey and (just) Ryan Higgins average over 25 in the Championship this season. And, in front of them, Jofra Archer – widely regarded as the hottest property in County cricket – Ollie Robinson and Chris Jordan. Eleven overs to survive and the script stated that Gloucs could well end the day 18-5 and struggling to avoid the follow-on. Miles Hammond, playing only his fourth First Class innings in his fourth match, had the job of opening with captain Chris Dent, without exactly a sparkling 2nd XI record this season to back him up. At the Close though, he was approaching his highest First Class score and had given his county a solid start, at 42-0, backed-up by Chris Dent’s solid imitation of a limpet.
Sussex have left three batting points behind and desperately need a big day tomorrow to keep their promotion hopes on track. If they fail to win this game, their chances will depend on combining a remarkable second half of the season with one of Kent and Warwickshire imploding horribly. Gloucestershire are facing the unpleasant prospect of the wooden spoon writ large ahead unless their batsmen can start to grind-out some scores. Both sides have plenty to play for. Tomorrow may determine how each side views the second half of the season.
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