Essex 333 (Lawrence 127, ten Doeschate 52, Shaw 4-72) lead Gloucestershire 255 (Roderick 61, Miles 55, Quinn 7-76, Porter 3-67) by 78 runs
At half-past five, midway through an evening session blessed by gentle, unexpected warmth Essex's Dan Lawrence reached the third century of his career with a pushed single off Kieran Noema-Barnett. The Cheltenham crowd gave him a generous ovation for they can spot a fine young cricketer in these parts. Lawrence only celebrated his 19th birthday two days ago and he could still play age-group cricket. But what would be the point in that now?
As if liberated, Lawrence took 27 runs off his next 14 balls, repeating the straight- and cover- drives that had already elicited ripples of approval. When he lashed Noema-Barnett straight to Craig Miles at midwicket, he received yet more applause as he returned to the pavilion and the ex-players attending their annual get-together at the College Lawn End joined in appreciatively. Essex were all out 11 balls before the scheduled close but their 78-run lead has left them well placed in this game.
And Lawrence, of course, is only the most recent of a long line of young players to have received laurels in this sacred space…
To the right of Cheltenham College's pavilion and at the Chapel End of the ground are rows of trees, cracked willows and American limes, mostly. In front of almost every tree is a plaque marking a Cheltonian's notable performance in an important school match. For example: Duleep Sinjhi, 1921, 7 for 35 v Marlborough; E M Wellings, 1927, 7 for 113 v Marlborough; P B C Moore 1939, 197 v Malvern.
In addition to being a record of achievement, the list is something of a litany, petitioning whatever power there may be for more games like this, more days on cricket's fields of praise. In many cases the request received a brutal answer; Cheltenham also has a war memorial.
And at lunchtime on the second day of this game, as Josh Shaw, Gloucestershire's loanee from Yorkshire, took refreshment in the middle of an eight-over spell in which he took three prime wickets, another tree was planted. It is a poplar and it commemorates the centenary of the death of Percy Jeeves, who died on the Somme on July 22, 1916. As many now know, thanks to Brian Halford's outstanding biography, Jeeves was playing for Warwickshire at Cheltenham in August 1913 when his style was spotted by P G Wodehouse, who wanted a name for a "gentleman's personal gentleman" in a forthcoming short story. "I remember admiring his action very much," said Wodehouse.
Yet as one watched the tree being planted and the speeches made, one thought not only of Wodehouse and Jeeves but also of the other trees on the ground and, perhaps, of Edward Thomas, who might have made an elegiac poem out of such events. Thomas died at Pas-de-Calais in 1917.
Shaw, meanwhile, whose West Riding birthplace is just six miles away from that of Jeeves, was doing his best to prevent Essex establishing a winning position in this game. After Nick Browne had edged a good ball from David Payne to Chris Dent at slip in the fifth over of the Essex innings, Shaw, another 20-year-old with all before him, had brought one back a little to have Tom Westley lbw for 24. The young seamer appealed with all the certainty of a barrister who has sweetened the jury.
At the beginning of his next over Shaw inflicted a first-ball duck on Ravi Bopara, Dent again taking the catch, and when Jaik Mickleburgh, who was ailing with a strain, slapped a half volley straight to Jack Taylor at midwicket, Essex were 80 for 4, still trailing Gloucestershire on first innings by 175.
The visitors' recovery to 333 at the close was led by Lawrence, who treated the former players in the corporate hospitality marquee to a fine exhibition of elegant batsmanship. He adapted well to a wicket on which bowlers are dangerous if they hit an exact length but fodder if they over-pitch even a fraction. Lawrence took four boundaries off what became the last over of Shaw's first spell and added 102 with Ryan ten Doeschate, getting to his fifty in the over before the Essex skipper brought up the same landmark with a whack over midwicket off Graeme van Buuren's anaemic slow left-arm.
But ten Doeschate perished more or less as Westley had to the first ball of Shaw's next over and it was eventually left to Lawrence and James Foster to give Essex the lead with a seventh-wicket stand of 83 in 14 overs. Gloucestershire's seamers were now tiring, the ball was old and the support bowlers had to buy their wickets. Yet Lawrence's 14th four, a majestic off drive to a ball from Payne which took him to 97, was still the shot of the day and he got to three figures 11 balls later.
Once Lawrence was out, Foster bolstered Essex's position by scoring 29 more runs very rapidly but this was something of a vaudeville act after a command performance. The crowd meandered away in a thoughtful mood and a Housmanish haze lingered on the distant slopes. On Cleeve Hill, stretching away towards Charlton Abbots, were all the trees of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire.
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