When Northamptonshire skipper Alex Wakely held aloft the trophy at T20 Finals day last August, it sounded a clarion call to counties like Gloucestershire. It showed them that success was not impossible for the so-called smaller counties, even with their distinctly limited resources. More particularly it showed them that success can be a result of concentrating their efforts on red or white ball cricket – but not both.
Northamptonshire admitted that they had targeted the 20 over format, since this was focussed in a shorter time frame than the Championship. This allowed the signing of overseas players on short term contracts for T20 only, and the use of a much smaller squad (Northamptonshire only used 13 players in the T20 competition).
The Gloucestershire coaching team of Richard Dawson and his assistant Ian Harvey argue that they are seeking to win all three competitions in 2017. But it doesn’t need too close an examination of the county’s squad to see that T20 is likely to be the major target, followed closely by a bid to regain the Royal London One- Day Cup, which they won in 2015.
It has been a quiet winter at Nevil Road, which suggests that Dawson is happy with the progress his squad have made in recent seasons. It is a group of players largely without stars but with a decent complement of ‘modern cricketers’, like Jack Taylor, who have the versatility to succeed with both bat and ball, and balls of both colours.
In addition, Dawson has consistently emphasised the importance of fielding- a feature of the successful Gloucestershire side of the 1980s that blazed the trail in limited overs cricket under John Bracewell. The 2016 model was often quite brilliant in the field, another factor which may well suggest potential limited overs success for the county this season.
But the real key to Gloucestershire’s prospects for the summer comes not so much from the Brightside Ground but the WACA (or The Furnace as its called for the Australian Big Bash competition). Perth Scorchers’ winning of the Big Bash was in no small measure due the efforts of Michael Klinger and Andrew (AJ) Tye. Both return to Gloucestershire this summer. Tye will play in the T20 and Klinger in both white-ball formats (but not the Championship).
Indeed the 36 year- old Klinger, who won his first Australian cap in the winter, has signed for a further three years limited overs cricket for Gloucestershire, for whom he has been such a tremendous success.
For their choice of Championship overseas player, the Nevil Road side also turn towards Western Australia with the signing of Cameron Bancroft for his second spell at Bristol. Bancroft will play the whole season. Like the only other new recruit Phil Mustard from Durham, who was on loan with Gloucestershire last season, Bancroft is a wicket-keeper batter. With red ball skipper Gareth Roderick also a batting gloveman there is no shortage of cover behind the stumps this season.
Ins and Outs
Ins: Phil Mustard (Durham)
Outs: Hamish Marshall (ret.), Tom Hampton (rel.)
Key player – Matt Taylor
Gloucestershire fans who were around in the 1980s liken the younger of the Taylor brothers to Mike Smith, the left- arm swing bowler who had such success in Bracewell’s one- day winning side. Taylor bowls with no great pace but like Smith he moves the ball both ways, combining this skill with the variety that is so essential for the modern bowler.
It is not just at Nevil Road that the 22 year old is highly rated. He spent the winter in South Africa at the England pace- bowling academy. The county will be hoping that this will pay dividends and 2017 will be Taylor’s breakthrough summer.
Player to watch – George Hankins.
The retirement of stalwart Kiwi Hamish Marshall means that Gloucestershire have a need to replace his traditional 1000 plus runs from somewhere. In part, that burden will fall upon 20 year- old right handed George Hankins. The locally born Hankins scored his maiden first- class century at Northampton in September 2016. The club will he hoping he fulfils the promise he showed at Millfield School where he hold the school’s record for most runs in a season, a record previously held by Kent star Daniel Bell- Drummond.
Michael Klinger (RLODC and T20) , Andrew Tye (T20), Cameron Bancroft (all formats) – all Australia.
How they’ll fare
In 2016 Gloucestershire won the South Group in the T20 NatWest Blast and must be a decent bet for a Finals Day place this time around. As well as Klinger and Tye, they have players like Jack Taylor, Benny Howell and Ian Cockbain who are all highly effective operators in the shortest format.
Gloucestershire’s 50 over campaign in 2016 was a huge disappointment after winning the trophy the previous year. There is no reason why success in the T20 shouldn’t be accompanied by a similar effort in the RLODC. The seam bowling unit, in particular Matt Taylor, Liam Norwell and David Payne look ideally suited to this format. Dawson and Harvey will be justified in feeling disappointed if their charges don’t push some more of the bigger counties hard in the this competition.
However, it is difficult to see Gloucestershire making much improvement on the mid-table placings of recent years, particularly as the newly relegated pair of Nottinghamshire and Durham must be favourites to occupy the promotion places. It is in the Championship that the lack of first division experience, and the slimness of the Gloucestershire squad, will likely take its toll.
Friday April 7th. Specsavers County Championship, Divison Two v Kent at Canterbury
Season odds (SkyBet)
Specsavers County Championship: 14/1
Royal London One- Day Cup: 20/1
NatWest Blast T20: 16/1