Under-performing sports teams usually seek comfort in the old maxim that things can only get better. Such has been the situation at Nevil Road for a number of seasons as ground improvement has taken precedence over team development.
But all that changed last season on a glorious sunlit September evening at Lord’s when Jack Taylor pocketed a catch from Surrey’s Gareth Batty in front of the Grandstand to win the Royal London One-Day Cup for Gloucestershire.
It was the first trophy the county had won since 2004 and was a triumph for a team that was just that, a group of young cricketers who won the competition with a series of nail-biting finishes on the way to Lord’s which showed they never knew when they were beaten.
But things are different in 2016. Winning silverware creates the expectation that more will follow, and the recently-installed floodlights at Bristol represent the last stage on the development of an international cricket ground meaning that the focus can now be turned more fully to on-field affairs.
Moreover, it is coaching team Richard Dawson and Ian Harvey’s second season in charge after a successful first summer, so many will expect them to build on that triumph with further success.
In addition to the efforts of Dawson and Harvey, the influence on the club of Australian Michael Klinger since he arrived in 2013 has been enormous, both on and off the field.
His form in 2015 was remarkable, so much so that he won the PCA prizes for the outstanding cricketer of the season in both one-day competitions.
Klinger topped the county’s batting averages in all three competitions, scoring 1563 runs, 1185 of them in 20 innings. No wonder the club is delighted he is returning for a fourth summer in 2016. He will continue as white-ball captain when he arrives in late May.
The retirement of Geraint Jones, who was four-day captain in 2015, left a captaincy gap which has been filled by wicket-keeper-batsman Gareth Roderick. This is an important career step for the 25-year-old South African who has recently signed a contract extension to keep him at Nevil Road until 2018.
It is notable affirmation of Roderick’s maturity that the coaching team feel that he will be able to cope with the demands of early order batting, keeping wicket and captaincy.
Like Roderick, opener Chris Dent has also signed a contract extension for a further two years. His 268 in the last Championship game of the season against Glamorgan (only WG Grace, Jessop, Hammond and Spearman have achieved higher scores for the county) masked a rather thin season for the locally born left-hander. More will be expected this summer.
It was a disappointment to see the departure of paceman James Fuller to Middlesex late in 2015 after five seasons at Bristol. Many felt that he was developing the consistency which was lacking in the early stages of his career.
Gloucestershire have one of the smallest county squads but the confidence gained from the winning of silverware in 2015 together with the obvious club unity engendered by a young coaching and management team suggests an ambition that may see the club continue to achieve above its financial potential in the foreseeable future.
Ins: Chris Liddle (Sussex), Josh Shaw (Yorkshire – season-long loan), Brandon Gilmour, George Hankins (both Academy)
Outs: Geraint Jones (Retired), James Fuller (Middlesex), Cameron Herring, Robbie Montgomery (both released)
Player to Watch
The current state of Gloucestershire cricket is perhaps best epitomised by 24-year-old off-spinning all-rounder Jack Taylor, elder brother of Gloucestershire colleague, left-arm seamer Matthew.
A career batting average in the mid-20s in Championship and List A cricket (less than half that in T20) and a bowling career which has yet to yield a five-for in any of the formats, suggest that history will record him as little more than a county journeyman.
But statistics tell nothing of the context in which those runs were scored or wickets taken. One feature of Gloucestershire’s 50-over success was the ability of Taylor to turn a match in his side’s favour with an electrifying display of big hitting. This culminated in the final at Lord’s when his aggressive innings of 35 and 3/43 including the crucial wickets of top scorers Kumar Sangakkara and Rory Burns earned him the man of the match award.
Andrew Tye is an Australian right arm fast medium bowler who has come to prominence with Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash competition.
Coach Richard Dawson is hoping the 29-year-old will help the county to improve their recent T20 record. The fact that Tye is available for all the group games, and can play alongside fellow Scorcher Michael Klinger lends credence to Dawson’s optimism.
Tye was capped by his country in the winter, playing three T20 internationals and was included in the World Cup T20 squad following his success with Scorchers, including a vital 4/18 in the semi–final as they lifted the 2014/15 Big Bash title.
Like Tye, 23-year-old Cameron Bancroft won his first international cap for Australia this winter in the T20 series against India. Bancroft is a wicket-keeper-batsman who will play red-ball cricket for Gloucestershire until the arrival of Klinger. He came to notice in 2014-15 when he scored 896 runs for Western Australia in the Sheffield Shield at an average of 47.15 earning high praise from his coach Justin Langer.
How they’ll fare
Even the most optimistic of Gloucestershire followers will find it difficult to predict promotion in the Championship this season. The announcement of changes to the structure of the county game for 2017 means only one side will be promoted to the eight- strong 2017 first division. The county finished in seventh spot in 2015 with just five wins (winners Surrey won eight) and it is hard to make a case for a dramatic improvement this time around.
Natwest T20 Blast success could be a different matter. It’s now ten years since Gloucestershire made Finals Day. But the confidence gleaned from last season’s one day success, the inclusion of the Perth contingent of Klinger and Tye together with the addition of left-arm seamer Chris Liddle, an experienced white- ball campaigner, should add to the county’s T20 strength.
However, the best chance of a trophy for the Bristol cabinet seems a repeat of the victorious campaign for the 50-over Royal London One Day Cup, a form of the game in which unsung heroes such as Benny Howell, Jack Taylor, Tom Smith and David Payne seem to be ideally suited.
v Essex, Sunday 10th April at Chelmsford
Specsavers County Championship Division Two: 12/1
Royal London One-Day Cup: N/A
Natwest Twenty20 Blast: N/A