In a season’s cricket campaign there is often a defining moment that sums up the season in a delivery, an innings, or a whole match. In Gloucestershire’s case it happened on a July evening at Bristol in the Natwest T20 Blast quarter final against Durham. In front of a packed house, and the gaze of the Sky cameras, Gloucestershire, batting second, needed 181 to reach Finals’ Day.
They struggled early on against the pace of Mark Wood, recently returned from injury, but it was a ball from Wood’s fellow seamer Chris Rushworth that turned the game.
Having earlier been treated with typical belligerence by Gloucestershire’s skipper and talisman Michael Klinger, Rushworth got one to bounce from a length that Klinger nicked. Durham wicketkeeper Michael Richardson, standing up, took a brilliant catch: a blow from which the home team never recovered.
It was evident from early in the season that coach Richard Dawson and his assistant, Ian Harvey, had targeted the shortest form as a competition that their side could win, so the failure to even reach the showpiece Finals’ Day was a huge disappointment. It was a harsh end to Gloucestershire’s T20 season. They topped the South Group with ten wins, playing their best cricket of the summer.
Klinger (548) was the competition’s leading run- scorer and Howell (24) the leading wicket-taker. The team’s performances won the admiration of many, not least Sky’s Michael Atherton, never one to dish out praise too easily. But in the end the only T20 winner for the Nevil Road side was mascot Alfred the Gorilla, who won the annual mascot race at Edgbaston Finals’ day!
If the T20 was a qualified success the Royal London One- Day Cup, the competition Gloucestershire won in 2015, was a huge disappointment. They played three matches in five days in early June and lost all three.
The most important of these was the first; against local rivals Somerset at Taunton. Gloucestershire had the match all but won. Somerset, chasing 261 to win, were 198/9 but improbably got home thanks to an unbeaten last wicket stand of 65 between Jamie Overton and Tim Groenewald.
A poor performance at Cardiff was followed by a defeat against Middlesex, meaning the Trophy holders were always playing catch-up and ended in bottom but one place in the South Group.
Gloucestershire finished sixth in the Championship, the same as in 2015, with four wins, one fewer than 2015. In truth they never looked like challenging for promotion in a year when only one county could win a place in the top tier for 2017. Yet, Gloucestershire did beat champions Essex at Cheltenham in one of their best performances of the season.
The side never really got enough runs with only Chris Dent and the retiring Hamish Marshall topping the 1000 run mark. Seamers Craig Miles, Liam Norwell and David Payne, assisted by Yorkshire loanee Josh Shaw, strove manfully without getting much support.
Gloucestershire missed a high quality all rounder. Benny Howell, although starring in the T20, played five Championship matches early on with no success. Kiwi Kieran Noema-Barnett, in the second season of a three- year contract, was again a disappointment.
Player of the Season: Benny Howell
Given the county’s success in the T20 competition, it’s perhaps not surprising that Benny Howell wins this accolade for some excellent bowling that made him the country’s outstanding bowler. His wide assortment of deliveries, including the famous ‘knuckle ball’, all delivered from a right- hand concealed during his run up by the palm of his left hand, made his the very epitome of the modern white-ball bowler.
In addition to the 24 wickets he took in the T20 (at an impressive average of 16.04 and a strike rate of 6.88) he bagged ten 50-over wickets at 27 with a strike rate of 4.91.
Breakthrough Player: Matt Taylor
Unlike Howell, who seems to have developed into a white-ball specialist, 22-year-old Matt Taylor enjoyed success with his left-arm seamers in all competitions. He took 19 wickets in the Championship and 50 over format, but it was his 15 scalps at 21 in the T20 that caught the eye.
His bowling at the beginning of the innings often put welcome pressure on the opponents’ batters. Following in the footsteps of Craig Miles, Taylor has been selected as one of five young bowlers to join the ECB’s Pace Programme taking place this autumn and New Year 2017.
His cricket doesn’t have the flamboyance of older brother Jack. Indeed, he reminds older Gloucestershire fans of the modest unsung hero Mike Smith who enjoyed such success with his left arm swing bowling in the golden years of the early 1990s.
Could have done better: Will Tavare
Although injury meant that his appearances in the Championship side were limited to six, it was a very disappointing summer for opener Will Tavare. He scored only 112 runs in his ten Championship innings and looked desperately short of confidence. It was a far cry from his first full season in 2014 when he scored over 1000 runs.
Need to work on
Winning the 50 over trophy in 2015, and success in the T20 this summer, shows that the county can compete in the white-ball competitions. In common with other smaller Division Two counties, this may well be where the focus of Gloucestershire’s attention will turn. Michael Klinger’s legacy, when he eventually leaves the county, could be to develop a greater ‘killer instinct’ into the side’s home players.
SSCC: 6th, Division Two
RLODC: 8th, South Group
T20: Quarter-Finals (1st, South Group)
Leading run-scorers: SSCC Chris Dent (1243); T20 Blast Michael Klinger (558); RLODC Michael Klinger (337)
Leading wicket-takers: SSCC Craig Miles (52); T20 Blast: Benny Howell (24); RLODC Benny Howell (10)
With the admirable Hamish Marshall (who played in every single match this season) retiring after 11 seasons, Klinger concentrating on white-ball cricket in the future and loanees Shaw and Phil Mustard moving on, the already small Gloucestershire squad needs a considerable infusion of new blood if the county is to be competitive in 2017.
On a more positive note, the likes of Dent, Norwell, Payne, Gareth Roderick and Graeme van Buuren should be approaching the most productive phases of their careers. It still looks as if it may be a busy winter for coach Richard Dawson as he seeks to plug the gaps in the squad in readiness for next summer.
Season rating: 5/10