Sussex 73 for 0 (Salt 53*, Wells 6*) trail Gloucestershire 200 (Bracey 61) by 127 runs
Studies in Texas have revealed that it took a meteorite hitting Earth at a force ten billion times the power of the Hiroshima bomb to wipe out the dinosaurs. Bowlers at flat-track Bristol must often feel they need something equivalent to remove 20 batsmen, and one theory for Gloucestershire’s surge to second place in Division Two is their high ratio of games at Cheltenham to headquarters this season.
Surprise all round, then, at the clatter of wickets on a slightly untypical surface that, while slow, has offered signs of variable bounce. Sussex capitalised by dismissing Gloucestershire for only 200 in 77.5 overs in a game that they might not quite need to win to remain in contention for promotion, but can hardly afford to lose to a side four places and 30 points ahead of them at the start.
Things are so tight that three successive wins, including two at Cheltenham, have propelled Gloucester from second-from-bottom in mid-July to next-to-top. They also boast most batting points in the division, but could add only one more this time as too many players made starts before losing their way against generally well-disciplined bowling and reliable fielding.
Only the composed James Bracey made a serious contribution before becoming the first of two victims in a fine spell by Chris Jordan after lunch. The England bowler swung the ball from lines that made both right and left-handers play consistently. When Bracey nibbled, Ben Brown took an excellent, low catch in front of first slip, and Tom Smith did well even to edge one that compelled a stroke.
Any hope that Gloucester might then end the day more positively was denied as they failed to break through with the new ball. Shannon Gabriel has been signed for the sound and obvious reason that his extra pace gives sharper teeth to the attack, but spells from both ends proved erratic and expensive despite the odd one signalling menace as well as promise. Maybe he was trying too hard.
Phil Salt almost edged an attempted hook behind having been rushed into the stroke, but the vehement appeal was rejected and Salt proceeded to play the best shot of the day, a lovely, fierce off-drive when David Payne overpitched. As if that was not enough, Ryan Higgins found himself warned for running on the pitch, the penultimate misfortune of a rotten old day.
The final ignominy arrived as the shadows neared the square when Salt struck four boundaries in a row off Gabriel to complete a half-century from 56 balls. If Gabriel thought that Salt would hang on the back foot expecting bouncers the hope proved wishful as half-volleys were stroked through the off side. Thanks to Salt’s positive attitude the deficit has already been cut (or driven) to 127.
“They got away from us at the end, but if we can stand up and fight for a bit tomorrow we can get back in the game,” Bracey said. “It always seems to be low and slow here, it does a little bit for the first couple of sessions but come tea we hope to be no more than four-down rather than six-down as we were this time. That does make it hard. Hopefully we can be a bit more precise.”
Without a big innings or anything more than a three-fer the day was not one for the painters or the poets. But there was scope for comedians in a stoppage of several minutes when glare from an open doorway in a flat at the Ashley Down Road End disturbed Matt Taylor, the batsman. Unfortunately, the home-owner wasn’t at immediate hand to shut it.
Umpire Ben Debenham could only shout from the boundary to the nearest neighbour for advice and help in spreading the word. This well-tanned, second-floor resident was bare of chest, in holiday blue shorts and sandals, and did not look prepared to have his half-hour of sun worship interrupted by a man in a white coat. Play resumed, the episode a footnote and the spectator back catching his rays.
Gloucester actually started solidly, undaunted under cloudy sky with the floodlights on. Bracey made an immediate impact when he moved up to open in the previous game against Derbyshire and started to look good value for a second century, leaving and defending well without ever getting bogged down against a very varied attack.
But Gareth Roderick was bowled shouldering arms and another important moment came when Miles Hammond top-edged George Garton’s second ball into the off side. A happy moment for Garton, briefly an England squad member on the 2017-18 Ashes but here making his first Championship appearance since May last year. His skiddy, left-arm pace is still there, still promising.