Gloucestershire's remarkable season continued last week in the county championship as the Shire bagged a third win of the season to take them to within spitting distance of the summit of division 2. With a game in hand. In a year when only one team gets promoted, surely Glos aren't serious contenders? Well, on recent form, you wouldn't back against them.
Despite stuttering with the bat on day 1 to be bowled out for 255, and then collapsing on day 3, losing their last 6 wickets for only 62 runs, the young Glos pace bowlers ran through Essex to bowl them out for 151, claim a famous and improbably win, and allow the hospitality tents an afternoon of drinking without having the cricket to distract them. Win win.
Much like the entire season, Glos were indebted to crucial performances at crucial times. On day 1, Cragi Miles' 56 runs, alongside contributions from David Payne and Liam Norwell, dragged Glos from 140 for 7 up to a total that at least got them in the game. An important 4 for 72 from returning loanee Josh Shaw helped restrict Essex to a first innings lead of 78. Roderick and Dent then knocked off this lead with their opening stand in the second innings before Maxi Klinger prevented a complete disintegration with 53 not out as the tail fell away. Gloucestershire then finally saw the very best of Miles, Norwell and Payne bowling as a unit as they finished with 3 for 26, 4 for 65 and 3 for 40 respectively. Norwell, Payne and Miles have been Gloucestershire's leading seamers for a few years now, but it is difficult to think of another match in which they have collective worked together to run through a team. If we can keep them all fit then Glos will fancy their chances against most batting units.
Liam Norwell now has 30 wickets at 25. Craig Miles has 27 wickets at 30. David Payne has 20 wickets at 40. Fitness has always been the issue with all 3 of these guys, but Norwell is still only 24. Payne is 25. Craig Miles is just about to turn 22. The Shire have the making of a decent seam attack for quite a few years to come. At the start of the season the Jessop Tavern did ponder whether we might regret not attempting to sign a consistent, more mature fast bowler to provide a steady spine to the bowling. Yet again, another astute observation from the Jessop Tavern that has been rammed down its throat.
One observation that we are standing by is that we are still not convinced by Gareth Roderick opening the batting. This said Roderick is steadily working his way towards a very solid season. Coming off the back of his first hundred of the season he now has 638 runs at an average of 42. This also includes 6 fifties. This is a welcome return to the early promise he showed when first breaking into the team and averaging 44 and then 55 in his first two seasons. Last year's average of 32 looks to have been no more than a blip, and quite possibly the move to the top of the order has helped rejuvenate him.
However, the Jessop Tavern grew up in the era of Alec Stewart, and thus we refuse to break with the belief that opening, keeping and captaining is possible. Especially long term. However, as Roderick doesn't spend half his time at the crease twiddling his bat or walking into drives outside off stump and nicking-off it is possible that this was the real drain on Stewart's energies.
So, Gloucestershire now sit third in division 2. 11 points behind leaders Essex, and with a game in hand against Leicestershire. Can Glos continue this improbable charge to promotion? Can they continue to fight on both the 4 day, 50 over and 20 over front? Will injuries catch up with them at some point? Is promotion even a good thing? All this and more, in the next exciting few weeks.