On a beautiful summer’s day at the Cheltenham Festival on which 15 wickets fell, the game is evenly poised. Gloucestershire, batting first, were bowled out for 183. Leicestershire in reply are 122-5.
The fall of 15 wickets suggests a pitch on which batting was a nightmare. It’s true that there was lively bounce throughout coupled with evidence of movement.
But there were also some poor shots from batters in both camps. It made for much more entertaining cricket than much that has been seen this season on flat surfaces where there have been runs galore and results that have depended on final-day declarations.
In the morning, Leicestershire enjoyed immediate success as Chris Dent nicked a Clint McKay delivery to wicket-keeper Niall O’Brien, while Will Tavare, in his first senior appearance of the summer, soon followed, caught at slip from the on-loan Richard Jones.
When Graeme van Buuren, looking rather less than his usual solid self, was lbw in Ben Raine’s first over Gloucestershire were 24-3. Mark Cosgrove’s decision to bowl looked a good one.
Michael Klinger and Hamish Marshall, in his last Cheltenham festival before retirement, effected something of a recovery. But then Klinger, having been dropped in the gully the ball before, edged a bouncing ball from Raine to second slip for 25 to make Gloucestershire 67-4.
It became 69-5 in the next over when Marshall had his stumps shattered by Charlie Shreck for 19. The hosts were in trouble but a promising partnership developed between two of their more attacking right-handers: Jack Taylor and Benny Howell.
At lunch Gloucestershire were 104-5 after 29 overs, but Howell quickly became Raine’s third victim when the bowler produced a swinging yorker, similar to that which accounted for Tavare, to trap Howell lbw for 27.
Jones, returning after lunch from the Chapel End, produced some lively bounce which saw Craig Miles glove a delivery to O’Brien at 123-7.
Taylor, in typically pugnacious style, took the attack to Leicestershire, reaching his 50 from 59 balls. But immediately after he was bowled by Raine through bat and pad to send Gloucestershire to 167-8.
When David Payne was caught at first slip from the ever-reliable Neil Dexter for 16 and Liam Norwell chipped to short mid-wicket from the same bowler Gloucestershire were all out for 183.
It was an unconvincing batting performance against some excellent Leicestershire seam bowling on a pitch which gave the bowlers some encouragement.
For Leicestershire Raine, produced the stand-out figures of 4-57 from 14 hostile and accurate overs. But all the bowlers contributed to a impressive collective effort which saw the home side dismissed in 49.5 overs.
The Leicestershire response began in the worst possible fashion, Paul Horton being lbw to the first ball of the innings to left-arm seamer Payne.
Neil Dexter looked in good touch, with centuries in his last two Championship matches, but there was to be no third today; Norwell bowling him for 15.
With tea taken at 34-2 it looked like a bowlers’ day, the more so when Cosgrove slashed at a wide one in Josh Shaw’s first over and gave Dent, keeping wicket in place of the injured Gareth Roderick, an easy catch for 41-3.
Mark Pettini was next out, not to an easy catch but a wonderful leaping effort from Marshall at square-leg from a short ball from Shaw that had a decent-sized festival crowd gasping in admiration.
It was 86-5 when O’Brien was lbw shuffling across his stumps to Payne.
But then Angus Robson and Ned Eckersley steadied the Leicestershire ship, holding on until the close with Robson on 49, Eckersley making 16.