It was a win that had looked likely since lunch yesterday and owed much to the skill of their pace bowlers who exploited the helpful conditions yesterday to put the Nevil Road side very much in second place. But in the end it wasn’t achieved without a scare as the visitors were 26/4 at one stage and wobbling nervously.
Essex will take great heart from this win when they compare this with last season’s progress in Division Two. In 2014 they only registered one win in their first nine Championship outings then won six of their last seven matches, only to fall in their promotion bid at the last hurdle. This summer, despite being at the foot of the table a couple of weeks ago, they have won three from their first eight so will be confident that they can build on this victory and mount a similar bid for elevation to the top division.
As well as Essex bowled in this match, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the toss and the weather played a large part in the eventual outcome. When the sun shone on days One and Three, both teams scored 300, but when the clouds rolled in on day two, the home side were bowled out for 116. Indeed, Gloucestershire coach Richard Dawson said after the game that he thought the two hours at the start of his team’s innings yesterday morning decided the match.
Today, on a sunny, warm Bristol morning Gloucestershire resumed on 126/3, needing 77 to make Essex bat again. Michael Klinger (62 not out) and Ian Cockbain carried the county’s hopes of a brave rearguard action. However, such optimism received an immediate blow as Cockbain, on 25 overnight, shouldered arms to the first ball of the morning from Jamie Porter and was bowled off stump.
Despite Cockbain’s misjudgement, batting conditions seemed to have returned to the calmer state of the first day after the problems which attended the glowering clouds of day two. Gloucestershire captain Geraint Jones joined Klinger and the pair progressed in untroubled manner towards the initial target of 203 needed to necessitate a second Essex innings.
Klinger, in particular, looked in the sort of form which has brought him over 700 runs in all cricket since his return to Bristol. There was an air of unruffled predictability when he drove Bopara to the cover boundary to reach his fifth century of the English season, scored from 196 balls with 13 fours.
Such was Klinger’s dominance that Essex were elated when Ryan ten Doeschate produced a ball which rose outside the off stump and prompted the Australian, on 103, to nick a catch to wicket- keeper James Foster in the 66th over. Essex’s pleasure was understandable. Klinger was the barrier to a three-day victory which with Gloucestershire at 195/5 looked an certainty.
After Klinger’s departure, Geraint Jones and Benny Howell pushed the score along past the 203 target until the home skipper was tempted to loft a ball from left- arm spinner Arun Nijjar’s over the long on boundary only to mistime and be caught by Napier to give Nijjar his second first class wicket. Gloucestershire were 221/6 . Jack Taylor soon followed his captain to the pavilion, lbw to Matt Salisbury for 5.
The new ball wasn’t necessary after lunch for Essex to see off James Fuller for 3, caught at the wicket from the thinnest of edges. Howell and Craig Miles delayed Essex with spirited ninth wicket stand of 71 before Miles was smartly taken by Salisbury at cover from Ryder’s bowling, with the new ball, for 37. When Howell was last out, two short of a uncharacteristically dogged half- century made in 89 balls, caught at deep mid – on from Porter, Gloucestershire were all out for 316 leaving Essex 114 to win.
The Essex pursuit began in the most dramatic fashion. Alastair Cook will have been looking for a pleasant hour or so in the middle before setting off for the pre-Ashes bonding trip to Spain. But it wasn’t to be. He felt for his, and James Fuller’s first, ball and edged to Chris Dent at second slip. Dent hung on gratefully to produce one of the day’s cricketing headlines. Nick Browne was also out to Fuller when he chased a wide one to be caught behind for 6 with the score on 16. Gloucestershire’s spirits rose appreciably as Ravi Bopara was caught at the wicket by the diving Jones from Craig Miles who was bowling with pace and accuracy from the Pavilion End.
What had seemed an easy task for Essex started to look a shade more challenging at 25/3, and could have been more so as ten Doeschate played and missed at a snorter from Miles. In the event ten Doeschate didn’t last long, Norwell trapping him lbw for 1.
At 26/4 the excited home supporters began to believe in the impossible as Foster joined Tom Westley. Foster settled and Westley prospered, the previous accuracy of the pace trio of Fuller, Miles and Norwell, lessened slightly and the applause from the Essex players in their dug out which greeted each run became more enthusiastic. But just as the win seemed to belong to Essex Foster was out, lbw to Fuller for 14 with half the side out for 73.
Westley and Jesse Ryder ensured that the winning post was reached without further alarms and when the winning target was reached Wesley was not out for a invaluable 65 scored from 87 balls and Ryder was unbeaten on 20. In the early part of the Essex run chase the home bowlers bowled with great hostility, Fuller being the main wicket taker with 3/32. Despite finishing on the losing side the young New Zealander won’t quickly forget his first -ball dismissal of the England captain.
For Gloucestershire this was a disappointing result. They have lost all four of their home matches this season, their two wins coming away from Nevil Road. They don’t possess the playing resources to sustain a promotion challenge and the example of near neighbours Worcestershire, who are having yet another struggle in Division One, suggests that promotion for the smaller counties can be a recipe for a season of pain.