Gloucester (first day of four): Gloucestershire 334-6 v Warwickshire
Warwickshire supporters haven’t had much to console them in recent times. Through the pain of double relegation, the one thing that kept them going was the thought that things could only get better. Now it appears even that comfort could be denied them.
The advent of three-division championship cricket offers fresh potential for upset. There is a growing possibility that the teams finishing outside the top three in the second division (the bottom six of the 18 counties overall) in the 2009 season could find themselves relegated to a new bottom tier. On current form, few at Edgbaston could suggest that is not a danger.
The England and Wales Cricket Board will supposedly consult the game’s ‘stakeholders’ before making any such decision. Just who those stakeholders are, one might well ask. They certainly do not appear to be county members, who face the prospect of watching fewer first-class games in return for more Twenty20 cricket. The opinions of county members, however, seem to be of little relevance to the game’s governing body.
Indeed, there was a fine example of the thinly disguised contempt for which county spectators are held in Gloucester yesterday. In rain so fleeting that it barely registered, the players huddled for safety in the pavilion for half-an-hour while children ran around happily on the surface deemed unfit. Only in cricket...
On the evidence of yesterday, it is hard to know which division best suits Warwickshire. While Gloucestershire dominated the first and third sessions, Warwickshire hit back strongly in the second and the hosts ended the day only marginally ahead. This is an easy-paced pitch and while the ball did swing, anything short sits up and begs to be hit.
Certainly, the first session belonged to the hosts. Craig Spearman, one of a host of talented men lost to New Zealand cricket, raced to 90 by lunch as Gloucestershire posted a first-wicket stand of 149, showing a refreshing willingness to hit over the top and, on occasions, looking impossible to contain. How much stronger the current touring side would be if they had Spearman, Stephen Fleming, Hamish Marshall and Shane Bond among their number.
Naqaash Tahir and Chris Woakes bowled respectably but that is not enough for a team to prosper and the ease with which Spearman (105 balls, 15 fours and a six) began to strike good-length deliveries back over the bowlers’ heads was unsettling.
Woakes was withdrawn from the attack after one perfectly decent, if anodyne, delivery was smashed back into the sightscreen before he had completed his follow-through.
William Porterfield was less convincing. Dropped twice off the luckless Neil Carter, on 20 by Ant Botha at square leg and quite badly on 33 by Tony Frost, few of his runs came off the middle of the bat and, had Warwickshire employed a third man, his main run-scoring area would have been cut off.
He showed admirable fortitude for a fellow on championship debut, however, and after his match-winning effort in the Friends Provident Trophy game at Belfast, will have fond memories of this Warwickshire side.
Warwickshire fought back well after lunch. Making use of increasingly humid conditions, the ball began to swing and five wickets fell for 51 runs as Gloucestershire’s batsmen failed to adapt.
Spearman, thinking about pulling, was squared up by one angled across him and edged to slip before Marshall was beaten by a superb inswinging yorker. Marcus North’s fluent innings was ended when he bottom-edged a pull on to his stumps before Alex Gidman, who could be a Warwickshire player this time next year, tried to drive a ball too short for the purpose and gifted a catch to point.
Porterfield then prodded at one just outside off stump to give Jimmy Anyon his third wicket in 13 deliveries at a cost of just one run.
It was a decent spell from Anyon. A broad fellow capable of some pace, he often appears reluctant to unleash the bull terrier that Allan Donald insists lurks within. Too often Anyon appears more of a puppy, but when he allows himself, he can be hostile and is growing in stature with every day that passes.
Had substitute fielder Calum MacLeod taken a fiendish chance at third man off Chris Taylor when the batsman had 35, Anyon would have five wickets and Warwickshire would be in control.
Carter also bowled better than his figures suggest, but the need for a cutting edge remains desperate and Warwickshire’s fortunes will only improve when that is resolved.
From there, however, the day belonged to Gloucestershire. Chris Taylor, driving quite beautifully, added 118 in 34 overs with Steve Snell and though the latter perished shortly before the close, the ball brushing his glove as he tried to pull, the hosts still ended the day with their noses in front.