Lancashire stand out as title looms
Gloucestershire 90 for 3 trail Lancashire 310 for 8 dec (Smith 88, Gidman 5-61) by 220 runs
The champagne, or perhaps the sponsors' beer, is on ice at Bristol for Lancashire who are on the cusp of the Division Two title. Only an utterly extraordinary set of circumstances will now deny them. David Collier, the ECB chairman, has been booked to present the trophy.
A host of permutations were discussed among the Lancashire members seeking refuge in the new Bristol pavilion as drizzle descended for three hours on day three. Northamptonshire could contrive a result; Gloucestershire could deny Lancashire any bowling points; a biblical storm could wash out next week's final fixture at Canterbury. The only sane conclusion was that Lancashire would win the title and confirm their promotion in style.
They have been the best team in Division Two and can go through the season unbeaten if they avoid a slip up at Kent. Here, save the opening 30 overs of the match, they have looked the better team. Gloucestershire can probably match their depth to the batting order - the hosts have four players with over 1,000 first-class runs this season - but superior bowling resources were immediately evident as conditions turned for the better on day three.
Gloucestershire could not have been helped by enduring several hours cooped up in the pavilion and it was hard to avoid the conclusion that they weren't mentally switched on for the 25 overs they were required to face. Only Michael Klinger emerged for any kind of warm-up but he was the first of three wickets to fall in 14 overs, hinting that Gloucestershire could slip into a tricky final day.
Klinger, Gloucestershire's Australian import, is one of those players to have made 1000 runs but if his dismissal to Glen Chapple for 13 proves to be his last innings this season it won't do justice to the superb year he has enjoyed. He returns to Adelaide on Sunday to prepare for the start of the Australian domestic season which begins on September 29.
Klinger's career has blossomed since his move from Victoria to South Australia in 2008 and scoring over 1,000 runs in county cricket enhances a CV that could yet catch the eye of the Australian selectors. And the way in which his leadership has rejuvenated a struggling dressing room suggests he could again be a candidate for captaincy back in Australia, having been replaced as South Australia captain by Johan Botha in 2012.
Klinger said an international call-up was still at the back of his mind and Chris Rogers' selection for the Ashes at the age of 35 indicated that the door is not completely shut. A solid Sheffield Shield season and a repeat campaign for Gloucestershire - he returns as captain in 2014 - will provide compelling evidence that he is ready for a baggy green.
Adjusting to the seaming conditions of Britain demonstrates he knows his game well and scoring runs in all competitions recognises the confidence he has in his ability. Unshaken by early failures - just 50 runs in his opening four innings - Klinger went on to score over 2,000 runs across all formats.
He looked in good touch as Gloucestershire came out to bat 25 overs from 4.30pm, getting off the mark with a well-timed punch through cover of Kyle Hogg. A cut and a drive through the same region brought more runs before he edged Chapple to Tom Smith at second slip. It was Chapple's 899th first-class wicket for Lancashire. Another milestone beckons on day four.
Having made the breakthrough, Chapple nipped off for a break - he can be showing no signs of fatigue lifting another trophy - and his colleagues notched up a first bowling point and another step towards the title.
Gareth Roderick, who has established himself as Gloucestershire's first-choice wicketkeeper in the second half of the season, made centuries to secure draws against Kent at Canterbury (with a first-class best 152 not out) and then against Essex at Bristol, but failed here trying to flick to Hogg to leg. A leading edge was superbly held by Luis Reece diving to his left. Perhaps Roderick needs more pressure than the current lackadaisical affair to make his runs.
Chris Dent has enjoyed a breakthrough season in scoring over 1,000 first-class runs in a year for the first time. He watches most deliveries come right to him before considering a stroke but rather fell on his sword to Oliver Newby who located pad before bat with Dent hanging back in his crease to a straight delivery.
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo