Sussex 286 (Finch 76, Brown 59, Salt 57; Miles 4-68) and 295 (Finch 98, Payne 4-69) beat Gloucestershire 306 (Hammond 103, Dent 65, Archer 4-62) and 247 (Bracey 87, Roderick 66, Archer 4-29, Robinson 4-49) by 28 runs
Fifteen minutes after tea on a soon-to-be-fabled evening James Bracey lofted Ollie Robinson to deep square leg where Danny Briggs dived forward to take a fine two-handed catch. Immediately Gloucestershire supporters bowed their heads in disappointment while knots of Sussex followers erupted in glee at a 28-run victory which had appeared a distant prospect in mid-afternoon. Ben Brown, the winning skipper, solemnly shook Bracey's hand before joining his team-mates in celebrating a win which leaves them 13 points behind second-placed Kent.
Bracey stood in the middle of the pitch, lost in his disappointment. He had batted five minutes over four hours and had faced 174 balls for his 87 runs. He is 21 years old and has already made three first-class hundreds. His innings at the College Ground had been good enough to win almost any game but this one. Robinson and Jofra Archer, both of whom had taken four wickets, also congratulated him.
Thus a match which some thought might be decided in Sussex's favour by early afternoon was not ended until the commuters were making their way down Bath Road. The many spectators without a pledged allegiance found it difficult to believe that even this great old festival has seen many better games.
Cheltenham, you see, is Cleeve Hill in the morning haze and it is Leckhampton in the evening sunset. But this week it has also been the College Ground's biggest crowds for a decade and a finish Sussex supporters will remember when autumn's gales batter the Channel coast.
Bracey's decision to hit out was entirely justified given that Brown had just taken the new ball and David Payne was at the other end. Throughout the day the coaches on the pavilion balcony had applauded his defence and rightly so. Boundaries are easy to appreciate but the shots which earn you the chance to hit fours are quite as valuable. Bracey had arrived at the wicket with Gloucestershire on 36 for 3, still needing 240 to win and facing a four-man pace attack which is as good as most in Division One. And then it had looked as if his beloved Gloucestershire might just manage it. Now this...
The early omens had not been good for home supporters and that made the result even more crushing for them. At the beginning of the day Sussex's bowlers had the immediate prospect of dismissing George Drissell and Matt Taylor, two tailenders whose promotion on Wednesday evening had prompted much head-shaking among the locals. But the morning session was Gloucestershire's. Although both nightwatchmen, bats, braziers and all, were caught behind by Brown in the first six overs of the day, those wickets were the only ones to fall before lunch.
Bracey and his captain, Gareth Roderick, batted with cool self-possession, the latter getting off the mark with a cover-drive off Chris Jordan and celebrating that tiny success with a boundary to the College Lawn two balls later. Bracey, meanwhile, was settling down for a day's batting. The very sharp half-chance which he offered to Harry Finch at short leg off Briggs' first ball was an isolated indiscretion. By lunch the fifth-wicket partnership stood at 87 and Gloucestershire needed another 151 runs.
And for almost an hour of the afternoon session it seemed Bracey and Roderick might take their side home. Both batsmen reached their fifties with singles off David Wiese and Brown's options were limited by the otherwise admirable Robinson twice being warned for running down the pitch. When drinks were taken Gloucestershire needed exactly a hundred and there were 22 overs until the new ball. Locals who had taken their seats when the morning's play began could not be shifted lest the game's gods looked unkindly on such restlessness.
Immediately after drinks Roderick swept at Danny Briggs and lost his leg stump. There was silence among the coaches on the balcony. The next hour saw three batsmen made modest contributions to the cause but none looked as solid as the skipper had been. Brown changed his bowlers with an eye to the new ball after tea but kept his concentration sufficiently to take leg-side catches off Ryan Higgins and Kieran Noema-Barnett, the latter off the last ball before tea. The Sussex captain came in having taken six catches, thus equalling the record for a Sussex keeper in an innings. He neither knew nor cared. Gloucestershire needed 34 runs; Sussex wanted two wickets.
Immediately after tea David Miles was leg before to Robinson, although the ball looked a trifle high. Bracey and Payne scrambled three singles; the fielders were distant or close as the situation required. Then Bracey seized what seemed to him a moment and hoisted five and three-quarter ounces of cork and polished red leather towards a distant boundary.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications