An attritional day’s cricket at the Cheltenham Festival ended with Leicestershire on 56/3 in reply to Gloucestershire’s first innings total of 217.
Batting appeared hard work for much of the day as gloomy clouds and a damp atmosphere enveloped the College Ground. The visitors will have been pleased that they capitalised on their decision to ask Gloucestershire to bat first and can thank Clint McKay and Charlie Shreck, who shared eight wickets and, particularly in the early part of the innings, caused constant problems for the home batters. That Gloucestershire were able to score as many as they did was largely due to Gareth Roderick whose 61 held a large part of the home innings together in resolute fashion.
Leicestershire won the toss on a cloudy, overcast morning and decided to bowl, a decision quickly vindicated as Chris Dent, in a poor run of form, was lbw to Australian Clint McKay for 5. Will Tavaré, similarly short of runs, soon followed his opening partner, edging McKay to wicketkeeper Lewis Hill for 15 with the score on 30. McKay bowled a lively spell from the Chapel End taking 2/21 from seven overs which put the early Gloucestershire batters under pressure.
With the score on 62, Shreck raised the visitors’ spirits higher to take the third wicket. Michael Klinger, who, unthinkably given his form this summer, was out for a duck in the T20 on this ground yesterday, nicked a ball that left him to give Hill his second catch to be out for 24.
As a weak sun appeared and the clouds lessened slightly, Gloucestershire’s progress with new red-ball skipper Ian Cockbain and Gareth Roderick at the crease seemed a little more secure. Lunch was reached with the home county on 85/3 from 30 overs and the morning’s honours just about even. In truth it was a session that did little to excite the sizeable festival crowd.
Typical of the gritty cricket on show was the spell immediately before lunch when Cockbain (5 not out from 35 balls) and Roderick hung on grimly against two splendidly hostile overs from McKay, much the most impressive Leicestershire bowler on view, who consistently beat the bat without success.
In the fifth over after lunch Cockbain’s tortured existence of 5 from 49 balls was ended when Ben Raine put him out of his misery having him caught at first slip by Angus Robson to make Gloucestershire 97/4. It was Raine’s 43rd wicket this season and just reward for some spirited bowling in helpful conditions. Five runs later Benny Howell provided both McKay and Hill with their third victim when he was caught behind for 1.
Kieran Noema-Barnett, returning to the side in place of the injured fellow Kiwi Hamish Marshall, was soon the home side’s sixth wicket. That Noema-Barnett was dismissed lbw to the gentle medium pace of Foxes’ skipper Mark Cosgrove did little to relieve the disappointment the New Zealand all-rounder must feel at what has been a miserable first season for him – he has scored just over 100 runs and taken seven wickets. It was not just Cosgroves’s first Championship wicket of the season, but his first spell- a fitting way to celebrate the birth of his new son.
Meanwhile Roderick stood in the way of the Leicestershire bowlers, moving to a defiant 50 in 117 balls. He was eventually out for 61 at 159/7 and the manner of his dismissal came as something of a surprise. Shreck held one back slightly and the young South African wicketkeeper chipped the bowler a gentle return catch.
Soon before tea Jack Taylor, the batting hero of the win against Northamptonshire at the festival, was out, spooning a catch to Matthew Boyce at mid-off for 28 in the 60th over. Some lusty blows from James Fuller took Gloucestershire to 192/8 from 64 overs at tea, with Fuller on 21 not out and Craig Miles unbeaten on 3.
After tea Fuller moved to 41 before he was caught at deep cover from McKay with 217 on the board. McKay only had to wait one ball for his five-for as Miles gave Eckersley an easy catch at point. A total of 217 from 72.2 overs, was more than Gloucestershire could have hoped for at 114/6, largely thanks to the positive batting display by Fuller.
For the Foxes the pick of the bowlers was undoubtedly McKay. He took 5/59 from 21.2 overs, Shreck taking 3/58. McKay troubled all the home batsmen throughout the innings with his pace and movement. Although his last two wickets looked cheaper than the first three, a five wicket return was fully deserved.
When Leicestershire batted Angus Robson was out quickly, caught by Tavaré at third slip from Fuller for 8 with the total on 15. Ned Eckersley soon followed as he was bowled by Fuller for 2 and when Benny Howell came on late in the day he got Cheltenham-born Boyce lbw for 18 to make Leicestershire 49/3. At the close the match was beautifully poised with Cosgrove not out 26 and Naik unbeaten on 1.