Gloucestershire 42 for 0 trail Sussex 286 (Finch 76, Brown 59, Salt 57, Miles 4-68) by 244 runs
It is many decades since eager spectators watched matches when perched atop ladders placed against the walls of the College Ground; and, yes, it is even a few summers since home supporters were unanimous this game had nothing to rival the batting of Zaheer Abbas. Yet Cheltenham is still at the heart of Gloucestershire cricket. One could see that heart beating in the bustling marquees on the first day of this 135th festival and you could hear it in the cheers which greeted offspinner George Drissell's first senior wickets for the county.
"What about Reg Sinfield?" asked one spectator loudly before going on to answer his own question and many others of his own devising as well. But this seemingly interminable monologue was halted in mid-afternoon when Drissell induced Ben Brown to hoist an attempted on-drive to Ryan Higgins at mid-off, thus ending the Sussex skipper's 113-run stand for the fifth wicket with Harry Finch. Brown's dismissal for 59 still left his side reasonably placed on 210 for 5 but it began a gentle subsidence to 286, considerably fewer than Sussex were hoping for when they won the toss but more than they looked likely to make when they were 90 for 4 just ten minutes before lunch. Drissell's second contribution was the scalp of Chris Jordan, who was caught at slip for nought just after tea. He thus has 1141 fewer career wickets than Sinfield, a much-loved offspinner from a very different generation, but he is 19 years old and he has made a start.
By the close Gloucestershire's openers, Chris Dent and Miles Hammond, had made 42 without loss and Sussex were left to reflect on a day when they had passed up the opportunity to dominate the game. This will have been particularly annoying to the visiting coaches given that Luke Wells and Phil Salt had put on 74 for the first wicket before Wells skied an attempted clip off the toes and was well caught by Graeme van Buuren running back from midwicket. That was the first of three wickets taken in 15 balls by Craig Miles, who then yorked Phil Salt after the opener had made a fluent 57 and had Luke Wright taken lowdown at midwicket by James Bracey.
Brown and Finch had steered their side to 125 for 4 at lunch but Sussex were still poorly placed in what is a vital game for them. "There are great spiritual advantages to be had in that town along with the air and the waters," Bulstrode assures his wife in Middlemarch when telling her of their trip to Cheltenham, but Brown's players are more interested in securing the win that will allow them to close a 33-point gap on second-placed Kent. The loss of their first four batsmen for 23 runs and their last six for 76 hardly helps that quest.
But the fall of wickets in clumps was the only remotely clumsy aspect of this day's cricket. As if to remind spectators where they were, the college has placed its badge on the outfield. "Labor Vincit Omnia" reads the motto beneath the noble crest and it is remarkable that a classically educated member of Momentum has not inserted a hubristic "u" within the Latin assertion. There were, as ever, many toasts to the good health of Bacchus and they were raised with particular fervour when David Wiese was leg before when playing no shot to Kieran Noema-Barnett on the stroke of the teatime patum peperium. Everywhere one looked there was easy affluence: not every outground has a garden enclosure with a gazebo and easy chairs; not every festival is sponsored by Aston Martin.
On the resumption Jordan fell to Drissell - more raised arms, more infectious joy - and then Finch, having played with unfussy efficiency for his 76 runs, punched a drive straight back to Matt Taylor, who clung onto a fine one-handed catch. Sussex's tail did what they could but Jofra Archer was caught at slip by Noema-Barnett for 21 when playing a horrid cut-cum-dangle. That gave Miles his fourth wicket and he finished the innings with 4 for 68, his best figures of the season. This first day ended with the home side's openers playing fluently and the second morning at Cheltenham will begin with a young Gloucestershire batsman called Hammond resuming his innings.