Hard hats at Gloucs after bumpy start
There is a standard kit for the hardy county cricket fan. A packed lunch, full thermos flask, comfy seat cushion and, for Gloucestershire fans this season, a hard hat. After an excruciatingly long wait, we Gloucs followers finally got our first glimpse of cricket at Gloucestershire in week three of the new season, amid the extensive redevelopment taking place at Nevil Road.
It is an almost unrecognisable setting from the quaint ground of previous years, and it's not until a match day that you realise quite how much of the old stands have been pulled out for the refurb. There is plenty of seating to accommodate the modest crowd that the Championship draws, but barely a third of the ground now houses spectators.
Watching the Gloucs struggling against an impressive looking Northants bowling attack after new captain Michael Klinger opted to bat, supporters congregated around the Pavilion End of the ground. With hammering, drilling and sawing reverberating in our ears, we viewed the action on the pitch against a less than attractive backdrop of two large cranes soaring into the sky from the building site at the Ashley Down End.
On more than one occasion play was halted by the batsmen, not for unaware stewards wandering across the sightscreen, but for the giant cranes dangling various distracting items (including but not exclusively, rubbish skips) directly in the batsmen's eye-line. I suspect that all the builders working at the ground were quizzed on their level of cricket interest to ensure no fanatical workers would be distracted by a cry of "howzat?", but perhaps some grasp of the workings of the game would be appropriate for the crane operators?
But it was always going to be this way. The building work has to be completed by the end of July, with an ECB inspection taking place later this summer to determine whether the ODI against India next summer can go ahead. Hampered by the inclement weather, the building company has had to maximise any dry weather by working into the evening and on some weekend days to meet deadlines. Happily, the response to the works by local residents has been generally positive and accommodating.
I'm not alone among Gloucestershire fans in finding it more than a little infuriating waiting ten days between the first and second Championship game of the season, particularly since our first match was away, meaning a long wait into the season to see Gloucestershire play in Bristol. As with all the Division Two opening fixtures, our first game of the season against Essex petered out into a rain-affected draw.
Cameron Herring, the 18-year-old Gloucestershire academy wicketkeeper, was picked for his first team debut over 2012 first team regular Richard Coughtrie and new signing, 21-year-old Gareth Roderick. Herring was not required with the bat at Essex but was impressive behind the stumps, and remained in the side for a home debut with the bat against Northants. Coming in at 90 for 6, he immediately appeared confident at the crease. Taking the team to 192 with a top score of 43 in the first innings, and with another valuable knock in the second, he may well have secured his place in the side, at least for the near future.
It will be distressing news for Coughtrie and Roderick, who have both been using a busy second XI schedule to plead their case for selection, beginning with an astonishing win at The Oval at the start of April. Chasing down 225 to win on the final day of a three-day fixture, they beat an experienced Surrey side that included England bowlers Chris Tremlett, Jade Dernbach and Stuart Meaker, along with county stalwarts Vikram Solanki and the legend that is Jon Lewis, familiar to all Gloucestershire fans from his 17 years at the club.
Both keepers have been in the runs of late - Coughtrie reached 100 not out before a declaration in a second XI game against Worcestershire on the same day that Herring set his stall out with the bat on his home debut - and will no doubt be desperate to get back into the first team. The combination of Herring impressing the right people, and an unimposing season last year for Coughtrie, 125 runs in seven matches, has led to the Herring stepping up. It will require something radical on either side for Herring to be replaced in the near future.
We have made a much more ordinary start than we had hoped for. The building work at the ground, a change of captain, and a young side gradually gaining in experience and confidence all add to a feeling that perhaps this might be another year of transition at the club, though our ambitions in the shorter formats - Dan Christian arrives for T20 - provides hope of some silverware this season. And if the building work off the pitch secures future ODIs, it will be a huge boost to all at Gloucestershire.