Clarke capitalises on Gloucestershire errors
Surrey 232 for 7 (Ramprakash 84, Clarke 62*) beat Gloucestershire 230 for 8 (Taylor 74) by three wickets
Surrey, and Rikki Clarke in particular, ended Gloucestershire's domination of the C&G Trophy by defeating the defending champions for the first time in the competition since July 2002. And it is not since 1998, when the same teams met on the same ground in the then NatWest Trophy, that Gloucestershire have suffered such an early exit.
Clarke and the Surrey lower-order kept cool heads as they edged towards their target, but Gloucestershire threw away the game with three crucial errors towards the death. First, Mark Ramprakash - who batted with outstanding authority in a stand of 82 with Clarke - was missed on 74 in the 39th over. The aptly-named offspinner Martyn Ball, whose figure and action both get rounder as the seasons tick by, dived to field his own bowling when Clarke drove towards mid-on. He failed to hit the stumps from five yards out, with Ramprakash, Surrey's captain, stranded.
By then Ramprakash and Clarke had dragged Surrey back into the game. They came together at 110 for 4 after Ali Brown and Graham Thorpe had fallen; the latter to a horrendous scooped drive to cover. Though they had to endure the tight bowling of Mark Hardinges, Ramprakash and Clarke kept the scorers busy through hard running and clever placement.
It was the Sri Lankan legspinner, Upul Chandana, who eventually ended the stand by clean-bowling Ramprakash but, sadly for Gloucestershire, this preceded the next vital error. The wicketkeeper Stephen Adshead, standing up to Jon Lewis, dropped a fine tickle from Clarke on 36. Clarke went on to add another 26 runs to that total, and wrapped up the match by hitting the winning boundary.
The final error was the most glaring. Surrey still required seven runs from the last over when Lewis, fielding at short fine-leg, let a sweep from Clarke clean through his legs. The batsmen ran four as Lewis floundered to the boundary to make amends, but the game was up. An outfit that has been so slick and ruthless over the past six seasons in the one-day format showed some severe cracks.
The game was played in front of a lively local crowd, proud of its team's recent success in this competition. The day was bright, if cool, throughout and both teams nudged into the ascendancy for certain periods, only to relinquish the advantage with the loss of wickets or expensive overs as the game swung, twisted and turned.
Gloucestershire's captain Chris Taylor first rescued, then established, their innings with a composed 74 from 87 balls, using soft hands in defence to drop the ball in the gaps for singles and punishing any wayward deliveries with uncomplicated strokeplay. He enjoyed partnerships of 59 with Philip Weston (35) and 72 with the impressive Alex Gidman, who ended unbeaten on 58.
A tight opening spell from Martin Bicknell and Tim Murtagh, extracting extra bounce and seam movement from an unusually pacy Bristol track, had put Surrey in charge. Murtagh claimed the key wicket of Craig Spearman, caught at second slip by Thorpe, and Matt Windows followed three balls later, playing on to one that bounced more than he expected as he tried to leave, and Gloucestershire had slumped to 24 for 2.
Taylor's calm head saved the Gloucestershire innings and thanks to Weston and then Gidman, they closed in on a competitive total. Nayan Doshi had Taylor stumped off a leg-side wide, and then dropped a caught-and-bowled chance from Lewis first ball, who had gone in early to boost the scoring rate. Gidman held firm, reverse-sweeping and nurdling as the lower order batsmen, Hardinges and Ball, struck cleanly and powerfully.
But Murtagh and Bicknell returned to tighten the attack at the death, setting a total that was well within Surrey's reach. Clarke's innings and figures of 2 for 41 from 10 overs earned him the Man-of-the-Match award, but Gloucestershire's unexpected fallibility at the sharp end of the match will haunt them.
Edward Craig is deputy editor of The Wisden Cricketer