Miles and Norwell set last-wicket record
Worcestershire 395 (Mitchell 167, Miles 5-90, Smith 4-77) and 51 for 2 beat Gloucestershire 156 (Leach 2-17, McClenaghan 2-21) and 289 (Norwell 78, Miles 62*, Shantry 4-52) by eight wickets
When Gloucestershire supporters arrived at Cheltenham, all the talk was of recovery and resurrection. This was appropriate, given that the College Ground is overlooked by both a hospital and a chapel.
It is unknown whether director of cricket John Bracewell does, indeed, possess thaumaturgical powers, but by the end of a day full of wonders there were many excited Cheltonians claiming that tail-enders Craig Miles and Liam Norwell were miracle-workers of a sort, even if they could not prevent Worcestershire's eight-wicket victory.
The reasoning behind such a bizarre contention can be found by a swift glance at the game's scorecard and we should be in no doubt that both Miles and Norwell will be asked to autograph plenty of these over the years.
Coming together with their side on 152 for 9, Gloucestershire's last pair added 137 which is now a 10th wicket record for the county. Norwell's career-best 78 - he tripled his previous mark - is the highest score ever made by a Gloucestershire No11 while Miles' 62 also bettered his previous best first-class effort.
However, the nature of the partnership was even more remarkable than its statistics. What began as a cheerful thrash gradually developed into a proper stand between two cricketers who played straight, hit through the line and made very few errors. Worcestershire skipper Daryl Mitchell was forced to use his occasional bowlers but none of it affected Miles and Norwell's cool approach to their task.
It almost came as a surprise when Charlie Morris defeated Norwell's back-foot defensive shot shortly after the tea interval that few spectators thought they would be on the ground to enjoy. The fact that Worcestershire batsmen made little fuss about scoring the 51 runs they needed to clinch the victory, albeit at the cost of both openers, did not detract from the sheer entertainment that had been served up to a festival crowd which had not remotely expected such glorious fun.
"Our first job was to make it as hard as possible for them to win but when it became clear that we could make them bat again that became our goal," said Norwell. "I played a few rash shots but Craig kept me in line and I think he's a good enough batsman to go in at seven or eight later in his career."
Yet while so much of the last day's applause was showered on Gloucestershire's last pair, the 23 points for victory were collected by Worcestershire, whose win takes them 43 points clear of Surrey having played one game fewer.
Mitchell's men are in ruthless mood these days and you would now get very poor odds on them winning their league title. They seem to be sailing towards promotion as smoothly and serenely as the hot air balloons that float above Leckhampton Hill.
The win will be particularly satisfying for Mitchell and Director of Cricket Steve Rhodes given that it was achieved without Saeed Ajmal, whose 63 wickets have been widely cited as explaining the county's success. The latter argument surely gives insufficient credit to bowlers like Jack Shantry whose left-arm round the wicket medium-fast bowling removed four Gloucestershire batsmen on the final day of this game and took his season's bag of wickets to 40.
The awkwardness of facing Shantry has now been compounded by the fact that he now seems likely to be brought on after another left-arm seamer Mitchell McClenaghan, who operates in the classic over the wicket fashion and at a considerably greater pace than his new colleague.
McClenaghan's short hostile spells were very impressive in this game until Norwell took a liking to whacking him over the top and he marked his first-class debut for Worcestershire by taking the first two wickets on the third morning.
Nightwatchman Tom Smith wafted at a rapid delivery but only edged a catch to Ben Cox while Will Tavare attempted a pull but merely skied the ball towards square leg. Morris jogged round to complete the catch.
Already the Worcestershire attack scented prey and skipper Mitchell offered his bowlers every support, on one occasion even giving McClenaghan an 8:1 field including a fly slip. Yet this wicket remained one on which good batsmen could play their shots, a contention proved by Alex Gidman who took heavy toll of Joe Leach and had creamed seven sweet boundaries in 37 runs when he played down the wrong line to Shantry.
Two overs later the left-armer - watty-handed they call it in these parts - produced a fine ball to induce an edge from Hamish Marshall and Gloucestershire were 84 for 5 half an hour before lunch. The morning had already illustrated the home top order's problems in this game: when they got in, they could rarely stay in.
The home team's plight barely affected the mood on the ground during the luncheon interval. Martial tunes were provided by musicians from the Royal Logistics Corps. Gloucestershire may have been sinking but the band played on. In front of the marquees at the College Lawn End a flotilla of panamas floated on a pastel sea.
In the distance Cleeve Hill relaxed in summer's warm haze, a study in green framed by blue. At the Chapel End men bought Wisdens and talked of stocks and shares.
Two balls after lunch Will Gidman clipped Morris straight to Shantry at square leg. Ian Cockbain and Benny Howell both fell to Shantry shortly afterwards and when Adam Rouse was caught by Mitchell off Joe Leach, people prepared to take their leave. Little did they know that the party was just getting going.