Matt Prior makes point to selectors
Sussex 168 for 3 beat Gloucestershire 166 for 8 by seven wickets
Matt Prior issued a powerful message to the England selectors as reigning champions Sussex beat Gloucestershire by seven wickets to strengthen their position at the top of the Friends Provident t20 Southern Division.
Left out of England's 13-man one-day international squad earlier this week, Prior smashed an unbeaten 90 from 49 balls to help the reigning champions chase down a victory target of 167 with more than four overs to spare as county cricket returned to Gloucester's Kings School for the first time since 2008.
Chris Taylor top-scored with 35 for Gloucestershire, yet their total of 166 for eight was never likely to deter a batting line-up ideally equipped to take advantage of the Archdeacon Meadow boundaries. Sussex effectively had the game in the bag after amassing 71 runs during the Powerplay for the loss of Brendan McCullum.
Brash and brutal in equal measure, New Zealander McCullum gave the reply early impetus, crashing 22 runs off 10 balls and striking three fours and a six to confirm his reputation as a bruiser of Twenty20 new ball bowling. Thereafter, Prior took centre stage, his 50 occupying just 28 balls and sending a timely reminder to the selectors, who preferred Somerset's Craig Kieswetter for the one-day international series against Australia and the match against Scotland.
Aggressive from the outset, the South African-born 28-year-old clearly had a point to prove, smashing three sixes and 11 fours and sharing in stands of 39, 69 and 60 with McCullum, Murray Goodwin and Michael Yardy respectively to render a fourth straight victory a formality for the Sharks.
Gloucestershire came out of the traps with all guns blazing, the all-left-handed pairing of James Franklin and Will Porterfield raising 32 in just three overs in a manner which suggested Sussex skipper Yardy had perhaps made the wrong decision after opting to bowl first on an unfamiliar ground.
Anything short of a length was unceremoniously pulled for four, while Irish international Porterfield greeted England World Twenty20 winner Luke Wright by lifting him over square leg for the first six of the match. Adept at strangling the life out of opponents, Sussex refused to panic, readjusted their length and slowly but surely regained control, removing the dashing Porterfield and skipper Alex Gidman in successive overs.
Porterfield wafted at James Kirtley's first delivery and was caught at short third man for 18 and Gidman played a false shot across the line and surrendered his off stump to Wright as Gloucestershire reached the end of the six-over Powerplay on 49 for 2.
England one-day international Yardy then turned the screw, persuading Franklin to hit to short mid-wicket for 26, to further reduce the home side. The innings was in need of fresh impetus, but the defending champions know a thing or two about restricting batsmen and Hamish Marshall, frustrated at being tied down, was bowled for 17 attempting to smear Chris Nash over cow corner as Gloucestershire listed to 88 for 4 in the 12th over.
Constantly varying his pace and flight, slow left armer Yardy proved especially difficult to get away and his four-over spell of one for 18 confirmed the impression the visitors were in the ascendancy. Gloucestershire urgently required a response and Taylor met the demands of the day in thrilling fashion, slog-sweeping Nash and Kirtley for handsome sixes to get the scoreboard moving again.
By the time he was caught in the deep to become Wright's second victim, he had harvested 35 from 21 balls and shared in a progressive stand of 37 with Kadeer Ali for the fifth wicket. Ian Butler adopted long-handle tactics to bludgeon 19 from nine balls and Kadeer finished unbeaten on 24 to at least carry his side to a respectable total.