Gloucestershire 248 (Hammond 75, Bamber 3-39, Cullen 3-57) and 272 (Bracey 88, Mitchell 4-42) beat Middlesex 101 (M Taylor 4-19) and 255 (Eskinazi 102, Mitchell 73; M Taylor 5-40, Worrall 5-54) by 164 runs
Stuart Law has never had much truck with excuses. He didn't when he was a player, he didn't when he was Lancashire skipper and you can bet your best boots he won't now that he is a coach. For a dismissed batsman to say that the ball was swinging is on a par with the suggestion that the grass was on the green side. What the hell else did they expect? Excuses, in the Middlesex coach's world, are used instead of arguments by soft cricketers and Law doesn't have much time for them either.
To move from such general thoughts to the specific details of Gloucestershire's wonderful victory on this final day's play at Cheltenham is perilous. For despite the simple truth that Middlesex lost this match by 164 runs, they did so after a day in which they had made Gloucestershire fight for almost every advantage and in which Stevie Eskinazi had made a 413-minute century. It might be thought from this that Eskinazi was once the excuser-in-chief. (He wasn't.) What he did do today, however, was put on 145 for the fourth wicket with Daryl Mitchell, a partnership that stretched over two days and 70 overs in a manner of which Law will have approved.
In the first two sessions Gloucestershire took only the wicket of Eskinazi, who was caught by the precisely placed leg gully, Ollie Price, off Dan Worrall for 102. It even appeared to some that the air was leaving the home players' balloon. One or two fanciful souls even pondered the notion the visitors might try to chase down 420 but that idea was on a par with raising The Titanic or teaching Donald Trump a foreign language.
Middlesex went to tea on 222 for 4 but the game was then transformed by Matt Taylor, whose accurate left-arm seamers accounted for four Middlesex batsmen in ten balls. Mitchell was the first to go, lbw for 73 to a full-length delivery that arrowed in. Next ball Martin Andersson received a straight one that a man in form might play defensively without fuss; but Andersson has now reached double figures once in his last eight innings. He edged it to James Bracey. Next over, Nathan Sowter gloved a lifter to Miles Hammond at second slip and Blake Cullen nicked a very good nut to Bracey. Middlesex had lost four wickets for no runs in ten minutes.
A relatively peaceful five overs followed before Ethan Bamber jabbed a shortish ball from Worrall to short leg where Tom Lace clutched an outstanding catch to his gut. Once again Gloucestershire's fielders raced around like men demented. Two overs later they were sprinting about the College Ground again but this time in the direction of Jack Taylor, who we had barely noticed on this last day until he sprinted from deep square leg to take the very fine catch off Robbie White that ended the game. Taylor's brother, Matt, finished with 5 for 40 on his 27th birthday and a career-best match analysis of 9 for 59. Worrall, who stinted himself no less, took 5 for 54. Middlesex lost their last six wickets for 14 runs.
But such a bleak statistic could barely be in deeper contrast to the temper of a morning session in which, for an hour or more, Eskinazi was as patient as a heron on a river bank. Three runs took him to only the second half-century of a season in which he was dropped after two games and only recalled for the match against Leicestershire in late May. It is really no secret that being omitted from the county side came as a horrid shock but perhaps it caused him to reconsider his approach to batting and to see every innings as precious. That, at least, was the impression he gave on Wednesday afternoon and again on Thursday as his innings entered its sixth hour. The two fours he struck before the new ball was taken, both of them cover-drives, were Status Quo riffs in the middle of a symphony.
But this evening at Cheltenham there are songs of victory and cans of lager and this precious old field is filled with Gloucestershire cricketers who cannot stop smiling. This victory leaves them five points behind the Group Two leaders, Somerset, but six points ahead of third-placed Hampshire, whom they play at Cheltenham next week. Once again the hopes and fears of the Cotswolds will meet at the College Ground. It should be a wondrous occasion.
Gloucestershire will be without David Payne for that second Championship game and of course they will miss him very much. But at least home supporters can be encouraged by the return of Ryan Higgins following the birth of his son. Gloucestershire's players can also be encouraged that they are playing this match at Cheltenham, a venue at which they are sometimes beaten but rarely annihilated. And who could not be inspired by such a setting? For if God had a hand in the creation of the College Ground, one wonders why He didn't then declare his innings closed and let someone else have a bash.
Gloucs vs Middlesex
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications