On the day that Gloucestershire captain Geraint Jones announced that he is to retire from first-class cricket at the end of this season, the home side and visitors Northamptonshire shared the spoils on the first day of the Cheltenham festival.
Northamptonshire were bowled out for 246, with skipper Alex Wakely making an excellent 104 and seamer Liam Norwell taking 6/41 to bring his Championship wickets total this season to 44. In reply, Gloucestershire had reached 82/4 at stumps.
On a cool, blustery Cotswold morning new Gloucestershire captain Ian Cockbain won the toss and chose to bowl. It was a decision which paid early dividends as Craig Miles dismissed Stephen Peters for a second ball duck, caught behind by Gareth Roderick, returning after his thumb injury.
Ben Duckett looked in excellent form right from the start as he scored all round the wicket. He and skipper Alex Wakely looked to repair the early damage as they punished anything loose from the home bowlers. Gloucestershire should have had a second wicket when at 30/1, Wakely was dropped at square leg by Jack Taylor as the tall right-hander mistimed a pull in Liam Norwell’s first over from the College Lawn End.
Duckett reached his third successive Championship half-century off 59 balls with ten fours, taking advantage of the short square boundaries at the Cheltenham College ground. However, soon after reaching his fifty he attempted a pull once too often, when he lofted a short ball from Norwell to Benny Howell at deep square leg with his score on 53 and Northamptonshire 90/1 in the 28th over.
In Norwell’s following over, the last before lunch, he persuaded Rob Keogh to edge to Chris Dent at second slip for two to leave the visitors 92/3 from 29 overs, and, despite the visitors’ dominance for much of the session, honours even at lunch.
The dark, brooding skies enveloping the College Ground were lightened a little over the lunch interval by the rousing tunes of the Rifles Regiment Band, part of a recent tradition at the festival. Equally rousing was the prospect of watching Richard Levi who bludgeoned a thrilling century in a T20 on this ground two years ago. However, Levi quickly became Norwell’s third victim as he wafted limply at a rising ball outside off-stump to be caught behind for 14 at 116/4.
Adam Rossington quickly followed Levi to the impressive pavilion, which has towered over this festival since 1872, when he nicked Norwell to Michael Klinger at first slip for a fourth ball duck. From 92/1 Northamptonshire had subsided to 118/5, Norwell having taken an excellent 4/36 from 11 overs. When the same man bowled Josh Cobb for one, Gloucestershire’s young Cornishman had taken 5/36, three of them in a spell since lunch when he bowled quite beautifully, troubling the batsmen constantly with his movement, aided by low cloud cover and a swirling wind.
Meanwhile Wakely was holding the innings together and, in partnership with Steven Crook, took the score to 191 before Crook was seventh out, lofting off-spinner Jack Taylor to Howell on the deep square leg boundary for 17. Wakely duly completed his first Championship century of the season from 217 balls with 16 fours. After reaching his century Wakely was out to Fuller for 104. The ball appeared to balloon upwards from his boot, Klinger held the catch and the umpire upheld the Gloucestershire appeal, a decision which Wakely clearly disputed as he tore off his helmet on the way back to the pavilion. Tea was taken with Northamptonshire on 215/8.
Despite a brief rally from Rory Kleinvelt and Graeme White, when Kleinveldt was caught on the long-on boundary signalling the end of the innings, Northamptonshire had lost their last nine wickets for 156 after being 90/1. 246 represents a below par total at Cheltenham, but riches indeed compared with what it would have been without their captain’s contribution.
For Gloucestershire, the bowling performance of Norwell was equally valuable. His 6/41 from 13.3 overs confirms the excellent progress he has made this season after assuming a more senior bowling role following the departure of Will Gidman.
When Gloucestershire batted, Chris Dent’s run of poor form continued when he was out second ball to Olly Stone, caught at slip by Rory Kleinveldt. Following the dismissal of Will Tavare at 12/2, and with Gloucestershire’s batting fragile of late, much depended on the two batters who were now at the crease: Klinger and Marshall. Diligently as these two senior players applied themselves Klinger was only on ten when he was caught behind by Rossington to give Kleinveldt his second wicket at 35/3. Gareth Roderick was fourth out, lbw to Crook to tilt the advantage towards the visitors at 76/4 but Marshall (25 not out) and Cockbain saw the day out for Gloucestershire to close on 82/4.
Geraint Jones, who is in the first year of a two-year deal with Gloucestershire, explained his retirement decision to the county’s website. ‘It’s on a positive note that I’ve made the decision. Yes the family side has been a big consideration but ultimately it’s about what’s best for Gloucestershire Cricket and this squad. Over the last few weeks I felt there were guys who needed an opportunity and my place in the team was potentially that opportunity.’
He further explained that one of the players he was thinking of was Ian Cockbain, who it is thought will be the red-ball captain for the rest of the season. Jones, who has been behind the stumps in recent red-ball matches, also commented that his decision was influenced by the return to wicket- keeping fitness of Gareth Roderick.