Elegant Clarke soothes the Rhodes rage
Gloucestershire 383 (Taylor 143, Dent 65) and 286 for 4 dec (Dent 135*, Roderick 81, Barnard 4-93, Tongue 3-74) drew with Worcestershire 300 for 9 dec (Cox 124, Rhoes 52, Noema-Barnett 4-31) and 155 for 5 (Clarke 93*)
"Ten to five," said Stuart Cummings at twenty past twelve and we all knew what the ECB's Cricket Liaison Officer meant. Once most of the third day of this game had been lost and any collusion between the teams ruled out, an agreed draw at the earliest opportunity always seemed the likeliest outcome. Yet we reached our destination by a circuitous route, tarrying to admire each of the Slaughters rather than taking the M4 to Tedium New Town. There was no agreement on the draw at all until ten to six, when nine overs remained to be bowled and the shadows were generous on the College Ground. And even after the result was agreed, there was concord about damn all else.
Worcestershire's players began this day disgruntled that Phil Mustard would not enter into negotiations yet ended it grateful to take five points for a draw. Presented with the notional challenge of scoring 370 in 51 overs, the visitors had collapsed to 47 for 4 but finished on 155 for 5. Their anger remained fresh and keen when the post-match beers were being sunk. It was expressed by the county's director of cricket, Steve Rhodes, who voiced his disappointment that Gloucestershire had rejected all offers to set up a run-chase.
"We were extremely disappointed that there was not going to be a situation where we could fix up some sort of reasonable game for the crowd that turned up and for the two groups of players," said Rhodes. "It seemed as though Gloucestershire wanted it all ways. They wanted to get as many runs as they could, quickly in the end after a boring start, and then try to bowl us out in a short space of time. Perhaps they are now ruing the fact that they didn't have another hour at us and it may be something they consider next time. If they had given us 70 overs to bat, we might have had a real problem hanging on for a draw."
Given the difficulties Worcestershire had encountered, home supporters were reluctant to criticise their side's tactics. Had it not been for Joe Clarke, who came within seven runs of scoring his third championship hundred in five innings, the visitors may well have been leaving Cheltenham only eight points clear of third-placed Kent instead of 13. Even as it stands, the race for the promotion places in Division Two actively involves half the ten clubs.
Clarke hit 15 boundaries in his 93 not out but what was rather more impressive was the security of his defence when facing the 80 other balls in his innings. Certainly this was in notable contrast to the porous techniques exhibited by the rest of Worcestershire's top order.
The visitors lost Brett D'Oliveira and Tom Fell in their first three overs, both batsmen being leg before to the left-arm seamer, David Payne, when playing across the line. Daryl Mitchell and George Rhodes were then bowled by Liam Norwell, Mitchell when playing down the wrong line, Rhodes when playing no shot at all. Ben Cox put on 63 runs in nine overs with Clarke before being leg before on the back leg to Kieron Noema-Barnett. It was left to Ross Whiteley to bat out another 16 overs before Phil Mustard offered the draw and the post-match brouhaha could get under way.
In truth, Worcestershire's players had been irritated with Gloucestershire in general and Chris Dent in particular since the opening half-hour of the day. John Hastings and Josh Tongue made their displeasure plain with a series of short deliveries to Dent, and Leach supported his bowlers by posting six slips and a gully when the left-handed Dent faced Hastings. Indeed, the Gloucestershire opener took something of a battering and received a painful blow on his forearm from Tongue.
Dent, though, is made of gritty stuff and withstood this trial by fire. He played the straight balls, avoided the wide ones and wore a few on his body when the moment demanded it. Will Tavaré was the first Gloucestershire batsmen dismissed when he was hit on the knee roll by Ed Barnard and departed unhappily for 32. Dent reached his fifty off 143 balls, hitting three boundaries in six balls immediately prior to reaching that landmark. As if to acknowledge that the temper of the exchanges had changed, Leach brought on the spinners, although a need to raise his team's over-rate from -2 may have been the captain's prime motivation in doing so.
That change was expensive. The 20 overs bowled by Brett D'Oliveira and George Rhodes either side of lunch and they cost 142 runs. Dent took 43 balls over his second fifty and reached his century with a sweep for four off Rhodes. It was a remarkable and well-earned transformation for the batsman who had been ducking and weaving in the first hour of the day. Gareth Roderick also tucked in merrily, making 81 off 95 balls before being bowled having a pre-declaration swipe at Tongue.
Dent returned to the college pavilion - a building modelled on a 19th century Indian railway station, so they say, - with 135 runs against his name. It had been a most valiant innings yet its full value was at that point unclear. As things turned out, Dent's unbeaten century did not set up Gloucestershire's third victory of the season. Instead it was the prelude to a disharmony which hardly seemed fitting as the evening sunlight dappled the hills above Prestbury and one savoured the wonderful discovery that there is a cricket club in Adlestrop
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications