In years past Gloucestershire teams enjoying disappointing seasons such as this one would console themselves with the prospect of the forthcoming festival as an opportunity to get the summer back on track. But this was on pitches that offered spin to the likes of David Allen, John Mortimore and Sam Cook.
Those days are long gone. Not only do wickets at the College ground now provide pace and bounce to offer help to bat and ball, but the venue has proved remarkably unproductive for the home county in recent years. In fact, Gloucestershire have only won three Championship matches at Cheltenham in the last fourteen seasons.
Seventh-placed Gloucestershire start the festival in poor Championship form. Since their last win, in early May, surprisingly enough at Old Trafford, they have lost four of their five Championship matches. Most recently, the last two red-ball losses have been heavy. Last week at the Oval saw the county bowled out twice cheaply to lose by an innings and 180 runs to Surrey. In the last match at Bristol, Essex won easily by five wickets against coach Richard Dawson’s charges.
Northamptonshire come to Cheltenham in fourth place. Like their hosts they have won only two matches, but whereas Gloucestershire have lost five the Wantage Road side have only lost one. They will also be encouraged by their performance last time out, against Lancashire at Old Trafford.
Chasing 414 to win on the last day the leaders were 206/7 on the last afternoon when bad light and rain stopped play. All the Northamptonshire batters showed decent form in the game with left-handed opener Ben Duckett leading the way. He hit 134 in the first innings and 88 in the second, while there were also fifties in the match for skipper Alex Wakely, Richard Levi, Adam Rossington and Josh Cobb.
The form of Gloucestershire’s Australian batsman Michael Klinger this season has been quite remarkable. Since he arrived in England in late May he has scored the astonishing total of 940 runs in all cricket with five centuries. He is averaging well over 100 in the T20 and more than 50 in the Championship. This will be his third, and possibly last Cheltenham festival if he doesn’t return in 2016. Although he scored a century at Cheltenham in 2013, he will want to make up for a thin return in 2014 when he scored just 24 from four innings.
Northamptonshire’s 23 year old right-handed batsman Rob Keogh is having his most successful season so far for the East-Midlands county. Dunstable born Keogh has scored 666 runs at over 44 with two centuries to date. He has also taken eleven wickets with his off breaks. Like many other young English players Keogh has benefitted from playing cricket abroad in the English winter, in his case Australia. Keogh is one of a number of young Northamptonshire players which also includes David Willey, Olly Stone, Rob Newton, Rossington and Cobb who offer the county hope for a return to the top division of the Championship.
Probable Gloucestershire squad: Geraint Jones (captain, wicketkeeper), Ian Cockbain, Chris Dent, James Fuller, Benny Howell, Michael Klinger, Hamish Marshall, Craig Miles, Liam Norwell, David Payne, Gareth Roderick, Will Tavare, Jack Taylor, Matt Taylor
At the time of writing neither county had announced their squads for Cheltenham. But Northamptonshire will be without new England white- ball star David Willey who is out until the end of July with ankle ligament damage. He injured himself when colliding with Worcestershire’s Jack Shantry in a T20 game at New Road recenty. The Northamptonshire side is likely to be unchanged from that which played at Old Trafford.
Probable Northants squad: Alex Wakely (captain), Mohammed Azharullah, Josh Cobb, Kyle Coetzer, Steven Crook, Ben Duckett, Rob Keogh, Richard Levi, Adam Rossington (wicketkeeper), Olly Stone, Graeme White
Weather and conditions
The weather forecast for Cheltenham for the duration of the match is dry and sunny.
Date: 8th – 11th July 2015
Umpires: Jeff Evans and Paul Pollard.
Odds (via SkyBet): Gloucestershire Evens, Northants 8/11