A fascinating third day at Bristol ended with Gloucestershire leading Kent by 240 runs with one second innings wicket standing and the prospect of another closely fought final day.
The hosts will be encouraged by a pitch which during the afternoon showed some inconsistent bounce. However, Gloucestershire’s leading scorer on the day Hamish Marshall said later that it repaid batsman who are prepared to grind out an innings, something that too few Gloucestershire batsmen did in their second innings.
Kent started the day on 223/9, just 30 ahead of Gloucestershire. The new ball was soon taken and only 15 were added before Adam Riley skied a catch to the wicket-keeper from Liam Norwell’s bowling leaving Kent all out for 235: a useful 42 first innings lead. Norwell was was the pick of the Gloucestershire bowlers with 4/44, taking his season’s tally to date to an impressive 25.
When Gloucestershire replied the arrears were soon erased by the opening partnership of Chris Dent and Gareth Roderick before Dent played on to Darren Stevens for 22 with the score on 59. Ian Cockbain never looked comfortable and soon became Stevens’s second victim, caught behind by Sam Billings in the last over before lunch for 2, with the score on 67.
After lunch the promising start to Gloucestershire’s second innings looked to be evaporating as Peter Handscomb slashed wildly at a wide one from Ivan Thomas from the Pavilion end and was caught behind for five. Almost as if Handscomb’s dismissal was contagious, Roderick played a similar shot when three short of his 50 and was caught superbly by Stevens at first slip, the veteran all-rounder displaying an athleticism which belied his 39 years.
At 81/4, and the top four home batsmen back in the pavilion, a three-day Kent victory looked a distinct possibility. But Hamish Marshall and skipper Geraint Jones set about repairing the damage with some enterprising stroke play against the visiting pace attack. They both profited against anything that was short, although Matt Coles was unlucky with some lively bowling from the Pavilion End which had Jones in particular playing and missing.
Marshall reached his fourth Championship 50 of the season, with seven fours, with the score on 165/4. The pair progressed to 184/4 off 54 overs at tea. As if to accompany the home side’s reviving fortunes the sun came out, the chilly wind dropped and the spirits of the Bristol faithful who had sat in wintry conditions for three days rose in greeting.
After tea Marshall and Jones continued in untroubled fashion until Marshall, who in this innings passed the milestone of 13,000 runs, became another victim of a loose shot outside the off stump when he steered a widish ball from Coles to Fabian Cowdrey at silly point. The veteran pair had put on 134 for the fifth wicket and ensured that the Gloucestershire bowlers had a reasonable total to defend in the last innings.
Jones continued to offer stubborn resistance passing 50 for the second time this season but Kieran Noema-Barnett was unable to provide any assistance as he scooped a simple catch to Calum Haggett at mid-off for a duck. The Kiwi has not settled into his role as Will Gidman’s replacement with any great success so far. This failure will not have helped his confidence.
Immediately after Noema-Barnett’s demise Jones received a ball which kept low and was lbw to Thomas for a valuable 55. Gloucestershire had lost three wickets while adding 6 runs since Marshall’s dismissal. David Payne and Craig Miles came together and put on 36 before Payne became the fifth Gloucestershire batsman to fall to a poor shot when he hit a gentle catch straight to Sam Northeast at mid-off from Hagget’s bowling, with the score on 257. Stevens returned at the Ashley Down End equipped with the new ball and immediately accounted for Miles for a useful 22. Then Norwell, dropped by Riley at slip in the penultimate over, and Matt Taylor saw out the day for Gloucestershire who ended on 282/9.
Kent bowled and fielded competently this afternoon with Thomas and Stevens bagging three wickets each. But Gloucestershire will reflect upon an effort in which too many of their batsmen were guilty of poor shot selection making the Kent task a good deal easier than it might, or should, have been.
With a target of not much above 250 Kent will expect to notch their first Championship victory of the season tomorrow. But they will no doubt remind themselves that in their first innings they were 98/7 before Coles and Haggett rescued the side. A repeat of this fragile batting display against Gloucestershire’s in-form bowlers may well lead to a close and exciting finish.