Essex moved close towards their second successive, and third in total, Championship win with an excellent bowling performance at Nevil Road. They bowled Gloucestershire out for 116 to claim a first innings lead of 203. Following on in their second innings the home county had reached 126/3 at the close of a day extended by morning rain in Bristol, needing 77 to make Essex bat again.
The first day had been an even contest between bat and ball in fresh, bright conditions. But today was altogether more overcast and for most of the day the ball moved around, making batting conditions much more difficult. That said, the Essex pace attack bowled superbly, making light of the absence of their key quick bowlers Reece Topley and David Masters. They produced movement, awkward bounce and admirable accuracy which, apart from late in the day when the sun came out, was altogether too much for Gloucestershire’s batsmen.
After heavy early morning rain play began at 11.50, with five overs being deducted from the day’s allocation, Gloucestershire began their response to Essex’s 319. Will Tavaré was out for six in Jamie Porter’s second over, edging to Alastair Cook at first slip. Porter was getting lively bounce from just short of a length in a hostile opening spell and immediately troubled the in-form Michael Klinger. Klinger soon followed his young colleague to the pavilion as he too touched a ball which moved away from him to Jesse Ryder at third slip – a rare failure for the Australian whose form has been so prolific that he has even been mentioned as a possible for the Australian side this summer should injuries occur.
At 18/2, Gloucestershire’s prospects looked as promising as the dark skies encircling Nevil Road. They didn’t improve when Chris Dent was lbw to Ryder for 12 to reduce the home side to 32/3. Ryder’s amble up to the crease belied the threat he was posing with sharp movement both ways providing an effective foil to Porter’s pace and bounce.
Gareth Roderick, playing in this game as a specialist batsman because of a thumb injury, provided some resistance, assisted by Ian Cockbain. They took the score to 59 before Ravi Bopara, in his first over, had Roderick caught in the gully for 28, fending off an uncomfortable rising delivery. In Bopara’s next over he produced a similar delivery which had the same result, this time Gloucestershire skipper Geraint Jones perishing for a single. A late lunch was taken with the home side perilously placed at 61/5.
It was a highly profitable morning for Essex in conditions which helped the bowlers. Gloucestershire will bemoan the fact that the overcast skies of this morning led to generous movement which Essex’s batsmen didn’t have to cope with yesterday. That said, the Essex bowlers exploited the conditions admirably.
After lunch Benny Howell joined Cockbain who had applied himself with great watchfulness, but when he had scored 10 from 53 balls he became Napier’s first victim, lbw from the first over of a new spell from the Ashley Down End. 88/6 became 89/7 when Jack Taylor fended a rising ball from Porter to third slip. The score of 169 that was needed to avoid the follow-on already seemed too far off for Gloucestershire.
Howell was eighth wicket down when Napier bowled him off-stump for 29, and Napier produced another beauty to shatter Craig Miles’s stumps first ball. Liam Norwell avoided the hat-trick, but only just, as the ball rapped his pads to produce a rousing, but unsuccessful appeal. However, Napier only had to wait another two balls for his fourth victim as he bowled James Fuller for nine. Gloucestershire had been bowled out for 116 in 39.5 overs, leaving them 203 behind Essex.
All the Essex bowlers contributed to the home side’s downfall, but it was Jamie Porter with 3/20 from 10 hostile overs from the Pavilion End who looked the most dangerous. He produced unsettling bounce and movement, particularly in his first spell, and, at 21, looks an impressive prospect.
When James Foster asked Gloucestershire to follow on, Napier opened the bowling, and, in his first over, his golden arm still glinting brightly from the end of the home first innings, trapped Dent lbw for nought. When Tavaré edged a Porter delivery to Foster behind the stumps Gloucestershire were 10/2 and a two-day finish looked a possibility.
Much depended upon the partnership between Klinger and Roderick who painstakingly tried to build a recovery. Roderick, when on 11, survived a missed dropped chance when he pushed a delivery from Ryder’s first over to Westley who unsuccessfully juggled an easy catch. Shortly afterwards he enjoyed more good fortune when he should have been run out in the last over before tea. At tea, after 17 overs, Gloucestershire were 38/2 with Klinger on 15 and Roderick on 13.
After tea, remarkably, Roderick, on 18, enjoyed another let-off. The Westley miss and the run-out were easy opportunities for Essex, but the miss at second slip by Nick Browne from Ryder was even simpler – a gentle snick which he had in both hands but unaccountably spilled. The shot which eventually led to Roderick’s downfall (an airy waft outside the off stump) suggested that the young South African thought that Essex would never get him out, but his luck ran out when he was caught at the wicket for 24 with Gloucestershire on 65. Cockbain joined Klinger and both batted in determined fashion, in batting conditions which appeared to have eased slightly from earlier in the day. At stumps their fourth wicket stand was 61 scored from 144 balls with Klinger not out on 62 and Cockbain unbeaten with 25.
After the visitors’ innings victory over Derbyshire last week they will be confident that they can replicate last season’s pattern of a promotion push that followed a slow start to the season. It is difficult to see that tomorrow will bring anything other than an Essex victory to aid their campaign.