Festival still to get a stride in
Gloucestershire 284 for 4 (Cowan 103, Marshall 72*) v Essex
In a summer filled with poor weather, organisers of the Cheltenham Festival, like those planning the Olympics, are praying for just two weeks of good weather but it seems even that has been denied to them. There were 49 overs on the first day of this match and we were lucky to get two more than that in on the second as rain drenched the college ground and may well prevent any play tomorrow.
And the overs we did have produced little to get excited about. It's been a very uncharacteristic start to the festival. An innings run-rate of less than three is practically unheard of on this ground, which produces fine pitches with short boundaries, particularly square of the wicket and particularly down the hill where the ball races away.
But a slow pitch, an Essex attack that has been disciplined, and obviously the rain, has prevented this match from getting going. Ed Cowan played like a solid opening bat for his hundred - the slowest in the championship so far. He displayed the usual skills: leaving well, reasonably timing, good footwork to negate the movement of two new balls - but because it took 267 balls, the innings failed to inspire.
He negated the slowness of the wicket by taking guard outside his crease and getting a big stride in. And when he became a touch frustrated at failing to find a way to progress against steady wicket-to-wicket operators, chiefly Greg Smith whose eight overs cost just nine runs, he came down even further, twice driving straight after advancing by a yard. But he consistently found the fielders - two short midwickets were placed to cut out his flick into the leg side - and he was made to wait 30 overs between his eighth and ninth boundaries.
Hamish Marshall found things a little easier, looking in excellent touch: his form continuing after a successful Flt20. He went to 30 from 51 balls before also finding the nagging bowling difficult to score off. It was no wonder his used his feet to Harbhajan Singh - taking him over mid off and then wide of mid on. Harbhajan proved straightforward to negotiate and knock around, perhaps why he has only sent down 13 overs of the 100 in the innings. The star overseas spinner might have been expected to be used more often.
But it was David Masters that did the lion's share of the bowling and he was eventually rewarded shortly after lunch when Cowan, after driving into the pavilion to bring up his hundred, fell over a length ball around middle and off and was given out for the third lbw on the card. He walked off rather unimpressed with the decision but replays seemed to argue in umpire Tim Robinson's favour, whose finger went up very quickly.
The other lbw of the day was claimed by Reece Topley. His sent down the second ball of the day which trapped Alex Gidman plumb in front. It was Topley's third wicket and was appreciated by his father Don, a former Essex seamer, who was part of a host of former cricketers in the PCA hospitality tent.
"It's not the easiest wicket to bowl on; we've had to remain patient," said Reece Topley. "Thankfully it's swung throughout the innings and that's played to my strengths and I've come up trumps with three wickets.
"I'm pleased to be back in the first team. I've had a good T20 spell and a good 50 over match against the Australians. I've worked hard on my white-ball cricket in the past year and now that's paying off too."
Topley, who has four tattoos and an appetite for more body art, was the joint second-highest wicket-taker in the Flt20 group stages with 14 victims, helping Essex to a quarter-final against Somerset that he is very excited about. He is also looking to add to his nine caps for England U-19s, who play Ireland U-19s in two 50-over matches at Grace Road on July 18 and 20.
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo