Tuesday, 15 May 2018

3 day Glos salvage another draw against one of Division 2’s big boys

Gloucestershire 210 (Dent 66, Cartwright 4-33) and 326 for 4 (Bracey 125*, Harris 3-60) drew with Middlesex 455 for 8 dec (Gubbins 99, Malan 76, Morgan 76)
Gloucestershire walked away from another away match against one of division 2’s big hitters with a credible draw after James Bracey’s heroics this time are enough to see the Shire across the line. However, some major question marks must now be raised against this Gloucestershire squad, particularly the batting, for the rest of the season.
Middlesex, champions of division 1 only two seasons ago, were heavily fancied for immediate promotion back to county crickets top table. Thus a draw in this away fixture at the home of cricket must be seen as a decent result for the Shire. The revolutionary tactics of picking only 3 specialist batsmen and then praying for one days play to be washed out by rain has now yielded two solid away draws, firstly at Sussex, and now at Middlesex. Whether such a tactic is viable for the rest of the season is probably a longer terms question. But for short term success in the early part of the season we commend coach Dawson for his outside the box thinking.
Electing to forgo the toss and to bowl first Gloucestershire’s attack really struggled to hit its stride against a team that hadn’t passed 300 in its first innings for 13 matches. That unwanted record was easily swatted away as the England wannabe Nick Gubbins scored an excellent 99 before this was built on by Dawid Malan’s 76. Even Eoin Morgan, in his first 4 day match for 3 years, seemed to know what to do with a red ball as he also added 76 before perishing. Only Dan Worrall looked threatening, finishing with 3 for 73. However, with both Liam Norwell and David Payne injured, and Craig Miles struggling to make an impact in the first part of the season, Gloucestershire will be worried about the strength in depth of the bowling unit.
After the second day was almost entirely lost to rain Gloucestershire knew that they effectively had two days to bat for a draw. This didn’t look likely when they proceeded to be dismissed for only 220, in two sessions, in their first innings. Only Chris Dent offered any resistance with his season high score of 66. Benny Howell grittily fought off a stomach bug to make 47 but it was nowhere near enough to prevent Middlesex enforcing the follow-on. In the evening of day 3, and batting for a second time in the day, both Dent ans Howell appeared to get Glos off to a good start, but both were dismissed before the close leaving the Shire to bat for the whole of day 4 with only 8 wickets left in the hutch.
Enter James Bracey who, for the second time this season, looked head and shoulders Gloucestershire's best player. He found solid support in the form of Gareth Roderick (48) Jack Taylor (41) and Graeme Van Buuren (46 not out) to see the Shire, rather surprisingly, home for a comfortable draw. His 125 not out was his second hundred in four championship games this season. A young man very definitely stepping up to the plate.
It is difficult to know what to make of this Gloucestershire performance. Walking away with a draw was a highly credible result, especially given the situation they faced on day 4. It showed a willingness to get stuck in and fight and, hopefully, it provides a platform for the batsmen to gain a bit of confidence to now push on. Dent finally scored some runs (coming into this game he was averaging 8 for the season!) as did Roderick and Van Buuren. Jack Taylor also had a couple of cameos and Benny continues to look like a viable top order batsman. It is conceivable that this unit can develop and grow together to produce the runs necessary this season.
However, the feeling remains that this is a batting unit that has foundations built on sand. Benny is a converted one-day specialist, and a bowling allrounder one-day specialist at that. Roderick is a keeper, all be it in the modern keeper-batsman form, but how many keepers are good enough to bat at 3? Taylor is a bowling allrounder, and highly effective late order biffer, who is trying to convert himself into a top order batsman who scores runs consistently. That leaves only Dent, Bracey and Van Buuren as specialist batsmen. Of these 3, Dent has 152 runs in 4 matches and Van Buuren has 108 runs in the same number of games. Bracey has been a star, and his 327 runs at an average of 54.50 places him 4th in the division 2 run scorers charts.
How can the Shire rebalance this? Well, the mystery selection of Noema-Barrett continues to flummox us. In this game he scored 6 runs and bowled 7 overs, this despite the opposition racking up 455 for 8 declared. Surely if we need to find 7 overs of gentle seam up from someone then Benny can provide this? Remove Noema-Barrett, install another specialist batsman (Will Tavare?) and then allow Jack Taylor to slide into his more natural position at 7. Maybe there is some cunning plan with the Gourmet Burger that we are yet to be made aware of, but bloody hell it must be very cunning!

Batting averages after 4 matches:Dent 152 runs @ 19
Howell 214 runs @ 30.57
Roderick 179 runs @ 22.37
Bracey 327 runs @ 54.50
Van Buuren 108 runs @ 15.42
J Taylor 122 runs @ 15.25

It is only the first month of the season, and these will surely pick-up, but Van Buuren and Jack Taylor must be glancing slightly nervously over their shoulders.

The bowling also looks as though it is really lacking Norwell’s cutting edge. Craig Miles seems to be  struggling for form and rhythm. Higgins, Worrall and Matt Taylor have 18, 16 and 15 wickets respectively. Throw in a Liam Norwell and this unit looks far healthier. Next up for the Shire, the start of the one day cup.

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