French cricket just the job for Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire 206 and 219 for 2 (Williamson 106*, Howell 64) lead Derbyshire 388 by 37 runs
The County Ground at Derby and the game itself was a lot different when Derbyshire recorded their last innings victory over Gloucestershire in a remarkable match back in 1981. A strong Gloucestershire batting line-up including Chris Broad, Sadiq Mohammad and Zaheer Abbas was skittled inside two days at the end of July following an astonishing first-innings collapse from 64 without loss to 91 all out.
The current Gloucestershire team is less renowned and they were facing defeat inside three days at Derby when they were made to follow-on, 182 runs behind, under leaden skies that required the floodlights to be switched on from start of play. But they proved far more resilient than their more illustrious predecessors and by the close led by 37 runs with eight wickets remaining.
Derbyshire would certainly have fancied their chances of rolling them over again in those conditions but, as is often the case, the batsmen showed a lot more fight second time around with Benny Howell easing the memory of his first-innings duck with an impressive half-century which was followed by a fine unbeaten hundred from the New Zealand Test batsman Kane Williamson.
Many shudder at the mention of Derby in early May and although this was a day borrowed from winter, the ground has improved beyond all recognition and at least Howell will have a warm glow when he looks back at his composed 64. So to will his father John who watched his son reach his second first-class fifty and who has postponed his flight back to Australia so he can see him play at Lord's on Bank Holiday Monday.
Howell Snr appeared for Warwickshire 2nd X1 in 1978 so he will have appreciated the way his son played as he tries to earn himself a contract following his release by Hampshire at the end of last season.
"I'm signed up for the season but I'm just playing on a match-by-match basis," said Howell, whose birthplace in Bordeaux makes him a rarity in the history of county cricket. "Gloucestershire are looking after me and I'm just happy to be playing cricket and see where it takes me. My dad is over visiting from Australia and he was up here on some work so he popped in to watch me play. I saw him walking between buildings and he had a little superstition going on and although I tried to concentrate on batting, I did find it quite funny but I'm glad I did well for him today.
"It's not nice going out on a pair and the first ball I nicked through the slips for four. It was difficult conditions but we just had to bat and it certainly helps batting with Kane who is so calm and collected and has experienced a lot of high-quality cricket."
Howell was eventually dismissed seven short of his career-best score by a clever piece of bowling by Jon Clare who along with Tony Palladino and Tim Groenewald makes up a strong Derbyshire seam attack. Add to that the left-arm spin of David Wainwright, now enjoying a fresh start after opting to leave Yorkshire, and it is easy to see why Derbyshire have started the season so well unbtiul Howell and Williamson intervened.
Together, they set a tone of defiance that was largely absent on the second day when the batting subsided to Palladino and Clare who received their Derbyshire caps along with Martin Guptill and Wes Durston before the start of play.
When Wainwright snared Paul Muchall to wrap up Gloucestershire's first innings and an error of judgement by Chris Dent saw him lose his off stump as he shouldered arms at the start of the second, the rest of the home dressing room was probably preparing for celebrations before the close. But Howell and Williamson showed what could be achieved with the right approach and although Derbyshire bowled well, they put Gloucestershire back in the game.
Howell stepped out to straight drive Wainwright for six on his way to a 72-ball fifty and was only seven short of his career-best score when Clare deceived him with a slower ball to end a stand of 117.
Although Wainwright wheeled away from the City End, at one stage bowling 12 overs for only seven runs, Derbyshire could not prise out Williamson whose previous first-class appearance saw him make a match-saving hundred against South Africa in Wellington in March.
He celebrated his second century for Gloucestershire by cutting Wainwright backward of point and when a short ball persuaded the umpires the light was not good enough even with the lights on, the visitors were 37 in front with a chance of denying Derbyshire a third victory of the season.