If there’s one thing to remember when making predictions on County Championship cricket, it’s that you really shouldn’t bother. The final day at Old Trafford brought more ebb and flow than anyone dared to believe possible.
Having all but ruled out the chances of a Lancashire victory at the end of the third day, and having placed Gloucestershire firmly in the driving seat, the obvious thing that would happen is that a Peter Siddle-inspired Red Rose would take six wickets before lunch and set up a very reachable target of 300.
Naturally bolder predictions were made, suggesting that Lancashire had every chance of chasing this down if they batted well. Cue the all-too-common plot twist that the longest version of cricket throws up. In the four overs before lunch Lancashire lost both openers in the space of five balls with the score on 11, placing the visitors back in front.
When Lancashire were reduced to 22-4 shortly after lunch, their victory chances were once again dismissed, relegating their expectations to merely batting out for a draw.
Enter Alviro Petersen and Alex Davies, who swiftly set about making a mockery of those predictions with a wonderfully constructed century stand. Despite losing Davies to the last ball before tea, Lancashire had reached 140-5, needing another 160 in 37.4 overs.
But there is a second thing to remember when making predictions on the County Championship: once you’ve made it, stick to it. For Gloucestershire were indeed victorious and their seamers were terrific after tea, claiming the five wickets they needed to secure a superb victory.
Resuming on 206-3 with a lead of 230, Gloucestershire set off with their feet firmly on the pedal as they attempted to push on to a big advantage. Unfortunately Hamish Marshall’s foot was firmly on the brakes and when Peter Handscomb decided to take a run off the sixth ball of the morning, both ended up at the same end when Alex Davies whipped off the bails to end their 134-run partnership.
To continue the motoring metaphor, the wheels started to come off for Gloucestershire when Geraint Jones departed eleven balls later. The former England keeper launched Simon Kerrigan for a six but perished when he tried to repeat the blow, succeeding in only picking out Petersen.
The brakes were applied as they took just nine runs from the next six overs. When Marshall had his off stump ripped out by Kyle Jarvis for 92, the visitors were 237-6 and Lancashire smelled blood. Kerrigan trapped Tom Smith lbw before Siddle launched a savage assault on the tail enders with the new ball and took Craig Miles and David Payne in consecutive overs.
Liam Norwell dislocated his finger in the field on Monday and was unable to bat. That was the end of the Gloucestershire innings and their total of 275-9 set up a tantalising target of 300.
It’s one of the great clichés cricket: the ‘testing little period’ before a break. Lancashire were left to face four overs before lunch and never has a cliché proved to be more accurate. After a positive start from Paul Horton, it all went downhill. With the score on 11, Lancashire lost first Luis Reece for just two and Horton five balls later for nine.
Lunch was taken two balls early and it was Gloucestershire who were tucking into their lunchtime fare with greater relish.
When Ashwell Prince nicked a good ball from Miles through to Gareth Roderick ten balls after lunch, Lancashire had lost three wickets for two runs and their thoughts had swiftly turned from attacking a target to saving the game. Captain Steven Croft didn’t help much, as he was caught behind off David Payne for just one to leave his side 22-4after 8.1 overs. They were on the ropes and Gloucestershire were flying.
Petersen and Davies did a terrific job of arresting that momentum and putting Lancashire back in with a chance thanks to their 118-run partnership, but when Davies fell to Kieran Noema-Barnett on the stroke of tea, momentum shifted again.
There was no hint of Lancashire batting for a draw after tea, but the loss of Petersen for 63 and Siddle for 12 left them 165-7, still 135 runs short of their target and all but ended their chances of a win.
Spinner Tom Smith’s re-introduction into the attack gave Lancashire hope again. Jordan Clark greeted his return with two sixes, and Nathan Buck hit two more in the next over. Lancs were 203-7, needing another 93.
As was the way throughout the whole day, the moment a side built hope it was dashed quickly by the opposition. Norwell continued to impress and removed Buck for 17, when he got a feather nick through to the keeper, and five balls later Clark was lbw to Miles for a 44-ball 34, reducing Lancashire to 203-9.
Craig Miles wrapped things up by bowling Kerrigan for a duck and secured a terrific 91-run win for Gloucestershire to take 22 points.