Gloucestershire 78 for 3 v Worcestershire
When Richard Jones was told he wouldn't be offered a new contract by Worcestershire at the end of the 2008 season, it looked as if his career could be over. There was never much doubt over his ability. As a teenager, he had earned selection for England U19s and appeared set for a bright future. Yet, aged 21, his progress had stalled and Worcestershire's patience had started to wane.
Fortunately for both bowler and club, however, their patience had not evaporated entirely. Instead of washing their hands of Jones, Worcestershire's director of cricket, Steve Rhodes, told the young fast bowler that he had the winter to prove himself. He could train with the club and, if they were suitably impressed, he would be offered another contract.
It proved to be an inspired piece of man management. The tactic focused Jones' mind and provided the motivation to force him into long gym sessions. Though 2009 was a grim year for most at New Road, Jones' progress provided one of the few silver linings. He finished the season with 22 championship wickets at 34 apiece and fully merited his new, one-year deal and his place in the England Performance Squad.
"It was brilliant management," the 23-year-old Jones admits now. "The whole experience was a massive wake-up call. Which was exactly Bumpy's [Rhodes] plan. I'm massively in debt to him.
"It changed my outlook completely. Before then, I had fallen into bad habits. I just did what I was asked at practise without ever doing anything more. I just thought it would all happen for me without having to work for it. I'd played for England U19s and I guess I thought it would all happen easily
"In my heart of hearts, I knew it [the news that he wasn't automatically to be offered a new contract] was coming. I hadn't performed anywhere near as well as I should have done and, looking back, when I went to the ground in the morning, it was in the knowledge that I might not have a job by the end of the day.
"I was told that I had the winter to prove myself. So, in October, when everyone else had the month off, I went to the gym six days a week. Now I'm working hard. I know I've been given a second chance and I'm determined to take it."
Jones is still not the finished article. An economy rate above four-an-over betrays a lack of consistency but, with an ability to swing the ball away at pace the sharp side of fast-medium, he is a dangerous bowler with more than a hint of James Anderson about him. Jones was certainly the pick of the bowlers on the first day of this match. Following on from the career best 7 for 115 he took in his last game, against Sussex, he claimed the first two wickets as reward for a probing opening spell. Only Gloucestershire's Gemaal Hussain, who was rested for this game, has now taken more than Jones' 31 championship wickets this season.
Indeed, such has been his improvement, that Worcestershire may face a fight to keep him. He's out of contract at the end of the season and sure to attract interest from a number of counties. They really aren't too many bowlers of Jones' pace, ability or potential in the English game.
He had some assistance from the batsmen here. Though Gloucestershire are currently third in the division two table, they have earned the position in spite, rather than because, of their top order batting. Chris Dent (21.07), Jonathan Batty (20.14) and Steve Snell (19.50) all have horribly low averages (though Snell made 98 in the victory over Derbyshire earlier in the week) and, in testing, damp conditions that delayed the start until 3.15pm and brought an early finish, their decision to bat first was, perhaps, something of a surprise. So, too, was their decision to omit Kadeer Ali, who scored a polished 74 against Derbyshire.
Snell was first to go, reaching for one he could have left and edging to second slip, before Dent top-edged a pull to long leg. Neither man will look back on their stroke with much affection. Batty was unfortunate. After weathering a tough start, he was just beginning to unveil some handsome cuts, as well as a pleasing drive through extra-cover off Shantry, when he turned one off the full face of the bat into the hands of short-leg. It was cruel fortunate for a man who has passed 50 just once in the Championship this season. It was due reward for another impressive spell from Alan Richardson, however. The 35-year-old seamer, with 27 championship wickets already this season, has fully vindicated Rhodes' decision to sign him and scarcely delivers a poor ball.
The same cannot be said for poor old Matt Mason. The 36-year-old, playing his first game of the season after a back injury, looked a shadow of the fine fast bowler he once was and is now reduced to operating at a pace somewhere between slow and stationary. Suffice it to say, if you saw him on a bus, you'd offer him your seat.