Kirby gets no luck as Kervezee impresses
Worcestershire 229 for 6 v Gloucestershire 245
Steve Kirby must wake up some mornings feeling rather like Sisyphus. He was the unfortunate fellow who so offended the gods that he was sentenced to an eternity of pushing a rock up a hill, only for it to roll down just before the peak. Which is how Kirby must feel trying to win games for Gloucestershire despite his butter fingered slip cordon and his mis-firing batting line-up.
Just what Kirby has done to offend the gods remains uncertain. Sisyphus seduced his niece, took his brother's throne and betrayed Zeus's secrets; Kirby is, by all accounts, an excellent uncle and has shown no inclination to seize any thrones.
Yet he has enjoyed no fortune. Despite earning a well-deserved reputation as one of the best fast bowlers in the country and coming tantalisingly close on several occasions, he has never won an England cap. And, on a day when he could easily have claimed 4 for 20, he instead conceded nearly six an over, remained wicketless and limped off the field 10 overs before the close suffering from what may well have been a broken heart.
He deserved better. Generating sharp pace on a sluggish wicket, he troubled all the batsmen only to see two relatively easy catches put down off his bowling and several other edges fly to the third man boundary.
The end result was a match that remains evenly poised at the halfway stage. Though the hosts, seven points behind third-placed Gloucestershire but with a game in hand, at one stage looked to be on the verge of establishing a substantial first innings lead, the visitors fought back strongly in the final overs.
At one stage Worcestershire, with seven wickets in hand, trailed by just 31 runs. Gloucestershire then claimed 3 for 7 in 23 balls, as the day finished with Worcestershire 16 behind but only four wickets left. Gloucestershire, who have not won a first-class game at New Road since 1986, are right back in the match.
The best batting of the day came from Alexei Kervezee. The 20-year-old, who qualifies for England in December 2011, oozed class as he cut, pulled and drove with delicious timing to pass 50 for the fifth time in the championship season. Twice he skipped down the pitch to loft the left-arm spin of Vikram Banerjee for straight sixes and his half-century - studded with seven fours and two sixes - occupied only 45 deliveries.
Moeen Ali was slightly less convincing. Though he unleashed some typically languid drives down the ground, and flicked the ball off his legs sweetly, his innings was interspersed with some nervous moments outside off stump. Several times he flashed only to see the ball pass perilously close to the slips, while he also edged Banerjee between keeper and slip on 32.
Still, Moeen and Kervezee's partnership bodes well for the future of Worcestershire cricket. With a combined age of just 42, they added 107 in 18.3 overs of fearless, joyful strokeplay that helped their side rebuild from 107 for 3.
Batting had looked far less straightforward for their colleagues. Both Daryl Mitchell and Vikram Solanki were undone by the extra bounce of a pitch that remains unreliable, with Mitchell caught at short-leg off the glove and Solanki caught off the glove at gully. Though Phil Jacques prospered for a while, he departed to an outside edge after feeling for one outside off stump.
Things could have been even better for Gloucestershire, however. Solanki was dropped twice, both times off the deserving Kirby, once before he had scored and again when he had just two. If the first chance, to Steve Snell at second slip, was straightforward, the second, to the normally reliable keeper, Jonathan Batty, was as simple as they come.
The value of Kervezee and Moeen's partnership became apparent once Kervezee played around a straight one from Lewis. Ben Smith, who hasn't scored a first-class century since the dawn of time (or July 2006 for those who like their statistics a little more precise), departed later the same over to a fine, diving slip catch as he prodded forward, while Richard Jones was bowled by a surprisingly sharp yorker from Gidman.
Moeen remains, however, and, if he earn his side a lead of around 100 on the third day, will have done much to set up victory that could prove vital in the promotion race.
Earlier Gloucestershire were grateful for the contribution of Chris Taylor as their batsmen struggled once again. They currently average the lowest score per wicket of any side in the country and are the only team without a first-class century in the campaign.
It's fair to say that some in the Worcestershire dressing room were underwhelmed by the comments about Matt Mason in the first day's report. They pointed out that Mason's record last season, 43 championship wickets at 27.58, compares favourably with most. And that he was more than capable of standing without help on a bus.
Mason made his point quite eloquently on the pitch, too. While he lacked pace, he maintained a tight line and length and used his height to generate enough bounce to unsettle all the batsmen. Gidman and Marshall both paid the price for prodding outside the off stump as Mason utilised the uneven bounce sensibly and showed the benefit of his experience.
He might easily have had a third wicket. Had Moeen, at third slip, clung on to a chance offered by Taylor when the batsman had just 50, Gloucestershire would have been 201 for 9. As it was, the tail carved out another 44 runs, with Taylor compiling his highest score of the summer. He pulled one six off Richard Jones but paid the price for making room against Alan Richardson was comprehensively bowled.
Meanwhile Franklin departed to a routine outside edge, Banerjee was brilliantly (if somewhat fortuitously) caught at slip as he edged a full-blooded cut and Lewis paid the price for a flat footed drive.