Gloucestershire wilt after Mitchell exhibition
Gloucestershire 156 (Leach 2-17, McClenaghan 2-21) and 10 for 1 trail Worcestershire 395 (Mitchell 167, Miles 5-90, Smith 4-77) by 229 runs
"Have we reversed the batting order?" It is one of the most scornful questions a side's top order can hear. Yet as Craig Miles and Tom Smith added 54 runs for Gloucestershire's ninth wicket in relatively untroubled fashion after tea on the second day of this game, one might conclude that the barbed enquiry had validity.
The pair had come together with their team's score on 68 for 8, replying to Worcestershire's 395 and their unflustered response to the chaos placed the efforts of senior colleagues in a harsh light. And when Smith and Liam Norwell added a further 34 for the last wicket before Norwell skied Joe Leach to long leg Charlie Morris, the last two wickets had more than doubled their side's score. Smith was unbeaten on 41 and may have been wondering whether No. 9 was his rightful position.
If so, he soon had the chance to find out what life was like at No. 3. Gloucestershire's late resistance had not come close to saving the follow-on and the home side lost captain Michael Klinger for the second time in four hours when he nicked the distinctly rapid Morris to Ben Cox. Smith and Will Tavaré survived to close of play but the day still ended with the batsmen surrounded by a choir of slips, their full-throated evensong of appeals echoing in the still air.
Indeed, to focus exclusively on Gloucestershire's limitations would deny the excellence of Daryl Mitchell's attack as it began the post-Ajmal period of the season by claiming full bowling bonus points for the 24th match in succession. In particular, it would ignore the very different cutting edge supplied by the recruitment of the New Zealand fast bowler Mitchell McClenaghan, who removed both openers, either side of lunch, and led the Worcestershire line with ferocious gusto.
Bowling with pentecostal fire from the Chapel End, McClenaghan produced a savage lifter to Klinger which the opener edged high to first slip's right, only for wicketkeeper Cox to leap across a take a stunning catch in one gauntlet. After the break, the fast bowler brought one back off the seam to burst through Tavaré's defences.
The following over, Alex Gidman played all across a full-length ball from Morris and Ian Cockbain drove the next delivery firmly back to the bowler, who deflected it on to the stumps, thus running out Hamish Marshall for nought without facing a ball. That left Gloucestershire on 15 for 4 in the tenth over; the wheels were rapidly coming off their innings.
An hour or so later the back axle and the gear box had gone too: Cockbain and Will Gidman added 38 before Gidman obligingly turned Jack Shantry to Tom Fell at leg slip; then Cockbain, having batted soundly for 94 minutes and 25 runs, nicked Joe Leach to second slip. Cox's stumping of Benny Howell off Shaaiq Choudhry, and Adam Rouse's lbw to Morris completed the afternoon rout.
All of which made it a grim day to be a Gloucestershire supporter and the decision to hold a members' forum with the county's hierarchy immediately after stumps seemed a particularly bad piece of scheduling. One rather expected the close of play public address announcement about the event to be accompanied with a reminder that the construction of gibbets was forbidden on the College Ground and that flammable materials could not be taken into the meeting.
Yet this game has already provided plenty of evidence why Worcestershire deserve to lead Division Two and the morning session offered another example of Mitchell's remarkable ability to bat precisely according to his side's needs. Undefeated on 102 overnight, his runs earned over six hours and 228 balls, Mitchell added 65 to his score in a shade over 90 minutes early on the second day, taking three fours off a Will Gidman over and lifting the ball sublimely and safely into the vacant expanse on the leg side.
Norwell and Miles suffered, too, the latter being hit for a six over square leg which scattered the refined crowd in front of the pavilion and maybe prompted the rapid abandonment of a few pre-lunch sharpeners. Invigorated by their captain's example, the other Worcestershire batsmen offered stout support, no one more so than McClenaghan who helped him put on 61 for the ninth wicket. After the New Zealander had been stumped off Smith, Morris made an obdurate duck, batting for half an hour while Mitchell made a little hay at the other end.
When Mitchell returned to the pavilion with 167 not out against his name, spectators in every stand, marquee and corporate junket stood to applaud. This was Mitchell's third century on the College Ground, where his average is 115. His 167 not out makes him highest run-scorer in the country.
Those who decry his achievement because his runs have been scored against second-tier attacks might do Mitchell the courtesy of watching him bat; they would see one of the most accomplished and well-organised batsmen in the country in the best form of his career. It really is not unknown for such cricketers to play in Test matches.