Mitchell's splendid form matches surrounds
Worcestershire 299 for 7 (Mitchell 102*, Oliver 62, Miles 4-53) v Gloucestershire
It is only fitting that Daryl Mitchell should bat well at Cheltenham this summer. While other batsmen have struggled for runs or bemoaned their luck, Worcestershire's captain is playing as successfully as ever he has and the College Ground welcomes cricketers in such form. The self-confidence of the cricketer matches the self-assurance of the venue.
While Mitchell carefully accumulated the fifth century of his lovely season and piloted his team to a respectable 299 for 7, he was watched by people who know that Cheltenham's place in Gloucestershire's cricketing year is very secure. Other outgrounds may struggle for money and many inflate one four-day game into a festival; Cheltenham is so well-financed and popular that it stages two Championship matches in addition to three limited-over affairs.
Sponsorship helps, of course, but who is surprised that companies are keen to promote their businesses in such prosperous surroundings? When Mitchell reached his fifty off 124 balls with a clip through midwicket off Benny Howell he was applauded by a group displaying many outward signs of leisured English affluence: the club necktie; the almost obligatory sunglasses; the lurid chinos. You almost get the feeling that three festivals - horse-racing, cricket and literature - are merely what Cheltenham feels it deserves.
One of the most impressive aspects of Mitchell's chanceless innings, played in the shadow of Henry Prothero's famous chapel, was the patience he displayed. He made a mere eight of an opening stand of 71 with Richard Oliver and he was then outscored by his fifth-wicket partner Ben Cox as the pair put on 102 in mid-afternoon. Yet Mitchell exhibited no sign of wanting to emulate his free-scoring team-mates.
Instead, he gave Oliver advice as the 24-year-old rattled along to his third half-century in only his fifth first-class innings, and when his young colleague was out for a 49-ball 62, caught at slip by Michael Klinger when driving Craig Miles, you rather felt that Mitchell would not be too hard on him. Oliver, as befits a man who has waited eight years for a chance with a first-class county, wrenched off his batting gloves in evident disappointment.
That was the only success Gloucestershire enjoyed in the morning session: Mitchell and Tom Fell lunched with their side on 118 for 1. However, three wickets fell in 40 minutes after the resumption as first Fell was caught on the crease by a straight ball from Miles before both Alexei Kervezee and Tom Kohler-Cadmore departed cheaply, the first caught and bowled by slow left-armer Tom Smith when driving hard, and the second stumped by Adam Rouse when beaten by Smith's flight and spin.
Their three setbacks left Worcestershire poorly placed on 140 for 4, especially so given that Mitchell had won the toss on a good pitch, but the visiting skipper continued in his methodical fashion and left any counterattacking to Cox, who duly got off the mark with a pulled six off Smith. Indeed, the Worcestershire wicketkeeper had added eight cleanly struck fours in his 58-ball half-century before he became another batsman to fall victim to a meal break when he tapped Smith to Will Tavaré at short leg just after tea.
Next over, Jack Leach was plumb lbw to Miles for a duck and postprandial torpor had claimed five wickets. But maybe you should expect this on a ground where the marquees not devoted to selling expensive cars or adventure holidays are given over to other forms of conspicuous consumption, be they paninis, pulled pork, or real ale at the Golden Heart in Nettleton Bottom. (The latter is a village near Birdlip, by the way, not an unfortunate medical condition.)
Certainly Miles was not complaining at the timing of his wickets. Playing his first Championship game since last September, the 20-year-old seamer bowled at a brisk pace and proved that he had recovered from his serious back injury. By close of play Miles had added the wicket of Shaaiq Choudhry when the Worcestershire batsman skied a pull to Howell and his final figures of 4 for 53 from 17 overs represented a fine day's work. The same may be said of Smith, who took his punishment from Cox yet bowled well through it all to finish with 3 for 68 from 31 accurate overs.
But it was Mitchell who performed the final significant act when he pushed Miles for a single to reach his 223-ball century four overs before the close. He had only faced three more deliveries when he left Liam Norwell's last ball of the day, accepted the congratulations of his opponents and strode off the ground, smiling, tired and ready to begin again after a good night's sleep. But that's the way it is for Mitchell at the moment. Every sunlit morning must beckon him with the encouragement that he can play this game.