Gloucestershire v Worcestershire, Specsavers Championship Division Two, Cheltenham July 9, 2017

Of Cheltenham, where the swallows still curve towards Cleeve Hill

Gloucestershire 343 for 8 (Taylor 118*, Dent 65, Mustard 50; Barnard 4-67) vs Worcestershire
Scorecard

Jack Taylor's hundred added to Cheltenham's history © Getty Images

There are grounds of which hardly a stick remains from three decades ago; then there is Cheltenham which, from most angles, looks much as it did when Wally Hammond cover-drove his path to glory and that wily Bolshevik Charlie Parker spun teams to perdition in summers from silent films.

Perhaps that is one reason people return to the festival and the fortnight remains profitable. While Jack Taylor was making a fine unbeaten hundred, people enjoyed a glass under the limes, much as they did when Zaheer Abbas was wristing the ball to the marquees. At few grounds does immediacy give way so gracefully to timelessness; at fewer still is cricket as much the context as the centrepiece.

Yet if you forget the immediacy, you are prey to nostalgia and the preservation of the past in aspic. So let us record that on an afternoon of woolsack clouds Taylor did his best to blunt Worcestershire's hope of promotion with a century which contained some thunderous cracks towards the many tents as well as rather quieter periods when he was respecting and reassessing the bowling.

The pivotal ball of the day was bowled by Josh Tongue in the 49th over when Taylor looked to play to leg but only edged a two-handed chance straight to third slip where Joe Clarke dropped the catch. The reprieved batsman had made 16 and he celebrated his fortune by taking two fours and a straight six off George Rhodes' next over. Most of the crowd relaxed into their enjoyment and the hills towards Winchcombe were tinged with blue and rich in memories.

Taylor's measured assault on Joe Leach's attack seemed only distantly connected to a first session in which Gloucestershire had lost four wickets for 87 runs in 30 overs. So keen had been the spectators' anticipation of collapse that they were hustling like poolside Germans for the best seats at the College Ground this morning and one could see their point. After all, 25 wickets had fallen on the first day of the match against Glamorgan, and when Cameron Bancroft was leg before, barely playing a shot to Joe Leach's first ball of the match, we readied ourselves for something similar.

And readied ourselves to no good purpose as things turned out. The pitch had little to do with last week's processions and this wicket was true enough to allow Will Tavaré to drive John Hastings to cover point in the second over before picking his next ball up for six over square leg, the ball thudding into the aptly-named Optimum hoarding.

Worcestershire's next three wickets could all be explained by bowlers' merit or the batsmen's errors. Tavaré pushed forward at Leach but only nicked a low catch to Ben Cox behind the wicket; Gareth Roderick skied an ill-judged pull off Ed Barnard to John Hastings in the gully; and Graeme van Buuren effected a quite horrid poke outside the off stump which merely gave the off-spinner Rhodes a wicket and Cox another victim.

That left Gloucestershire on 85 for 4 a few minutes before lunch with the majority of those runs having come from Chris Dent, whose frequent cover-driving rattled the advertising boards in front of the marquees sponsored by Old Patesians and Charlton Kings Club. The inhabitants of both refuges toasted Dent's strokes with their morning sharpeners.

The middle session of the day was dominated by Gloucestershire's batsmen. Dent reached his fifty with a single off Brett D'Oliveira and Phil Mustard celebrated the achievement later in the over by pulling an outrageous long hop to the Members' Marquee. But the pair's brief restorative partnership ended when Dent was leg before to Barnard for 65, the ball cutting in off the pitch and the batsman walking before Russell Evans gave his decision.

Three further wickets were to fall but none of them affected the fresh momentum of the innings. Mustard was content to support Taylor and took 125 balls over his half-century before being bowled through the gate when driving loosely at Barnard, whose four wickets accurately reflected his value to Leach's attack. Tongue, on the other hand, had two chances dropped and was ill-served by figures of 1 for 61. There was, though, never a time when all bowlers came alike to Gloucestershire's batsmen.

Tongue's labours finally received some sort of reward when Kieran Noema-Barnett could only glove a well-pitched short ball to Cox but the evening session was further enlivened by an 89-run stand for the eighth between Taylor and Craig Miles. The latter looked a candidate to be caught at short leg at any moment but he included a pulled six off Hastings in his 39 runs.

The new ball was taken by Leach and frequently dispatched by Taylor, who reached his 122-ball century with a straight drive off the Worcestershire skipper which was as fine as anything we saw all day. The excellent Cox took his fourth catch to remove Miles and give Barnard another wicket yet David Payne kept Taylor company until close of play by which time the mood of the crowd had changed utterly from their morning apprehension.

The day ended, as have hundreds at this precious festival, with the players being welcomed back into the broad shadow of the pavilion. Taylor led them, of course, on an evening when his first century of the season had set up a match Worcestershire must seek to win. Yet there were better reasons than even achievement and anticipation to make one feel at peace with the world this Sunday evening. If the sight of a swallow curving towards Cleeve Hill and the soaring glories of Prothero's chapel do not lift our spirits, there is something wrong with us.

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications

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  • Sanjay on July 10, 2017, 0:35 GMT

    Lovely write up, Mr. Edwards.

  • richar7120414 on July 9, 2017, 21:55 GMT

    Paul - thanks for your report of 9th July. I had similar thoughts myself. I imagine that the EU negotiators would have no idea what you're talking about. Cricket? What's that?

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