Gloucestershire 200 (Bracey 61) and 197 for 6 (Dent 72) lead Sussex 370 (Salt 64) by 113 runs
Gloucestershire achieved their first mission by taking the game into the final day after Sussex threatened to complete a notable success inside three days. Once the floodlights were switched on at around 5.30 it was only a matter of time before umpires Steve O’Shaughnessy and Ben Debenham halted proceedings because of bad light.
Thoughts of an extra half hour ended at that point, but Ryan Higgins and Jack Taylor will resume their seventh-wicket stand in the morning with thought of survival first, second and third, target-setting a very distant fourth. Without playing exceptional or exciting cricket, Sussex have taken a grip and tightened it; they can expect to finish this round of games at least one place up, in fifth.
After play began an hour behind schedule, they struck 57 more runs in 50 minutes to establish a lead of 170 on first innings. An emerging consensus suggests that while survival on the increasingly slow pitch should be relatively straightforward, playing strokes is problematic. That explains why so many Gloucestershire batmen trudged off in self-reproach through the afternoon.
At least in Higgins they have the best No.7 in the country with four 2019 Championship hundreds to his name. “I think we are in a deep hole, but I am going to fight tomorrow with ‘Jacko’ to try to get us out of it,” he said. “We have been behind the eight-ball from the first day, but we have got draws out of nowhere here before.”
Of all the county grounds, Bristol most needs the sun to show off its best. The flats at the Ashley Down Road end are cream and chrome with off-white blinds, the bucket seats are rows of grey, as are the floodlight pylons, and the austere building behind them to the right is a mix of grey, brown and fawn stone, like the gravel at the bottom of a fish tank. Thank goodness for the oak trees.
As the clouds lifted after lunch it did look more of a picture – albeit not from the Fauvist school – and with any swing telegraphed from the hand, conditions were as good as they have been for batting. James Bracey and Chris Dent repelled the new ball so that Gloucester needed nothing more than patience, concentration and a modicum of good fortune for the afternoon ahead.
Instead of frustrating the bowlers they offered too much charity. David Wiese was the first to prosper when Bracey tried to force a ball he could have left and edged behind. He was still chastising himself the other side of the rope. Gareth Roderick was more culpable still in Wiese’s next over with an elegant waft off his legs that was Gower-like in all but its destination, straight to deep square leg.
Dent seemed the man for the situation. Compact and well-organised, he averages over fifty for the season and a number of team mates recently took to Twitter to offer him as an England candidate. Prising him from the crease can be as hard as persuading Ken Dodd to leave the stage. He impressed here in his ability to punish the bad ball, completing 1,000 runs for the fourth season on 41.
But Miles Hammond top-edged a pull against the slow left-arm of Delray Rawlins and Dent followed three overs later tickling an innocuous ball from George Garton that he followed down the leg side. His 72 is the highest individual score for either side so far. Once again, a batsman wandered off in self-disgust while the converging Sussex players looked as surprised as they were gleeful.
Ben Brown was happy to employ some funky fielding positions to account for the low, slow surface. The captain could take much credit when Tom Smith duly clipped Ollie Robinson to short midwicket. Robinson struck again with an lbw decision against Ben Charlesworth, the youngster having been missed twice already off Luke Wells, but Higgins remained dutifully robust.
Not for the first time, the depth of the Sussex batting held them in proper stead. Garton, at ten, wants to be considered an all-rounder while last man Robinson has a hundred to his name. “A number of times this season the bottom five have taken the game away from the opposition,” Wiese said. “If you had offered us the close-of-play position at the start of the morning, we’d have taken it.”
Sussex might have been surprised that David Payne did not enter the Gloucester attack until nine overs were bowled. Smith, the spinner, rushed through at the Ashley Down Road end and fielders chased boundaries over the rope as though speeding up an over rate of -4 was a priority. Yet Shannon Gabriel ambled through in tandem, continuing to no-ball and struggle for length.
He appeared thoroughly disconsolate as he took his sweater and walked off after four overs costing 27 runs, suffering trouble with his left leg. Payne struck in his first over when Will Beer stood on his wicket, but Gloucester needed excellent catches from Charlesworth and Jack Taylor to end the innings and deny Sussex full bonus points. They had little else to cheer.