Worcestershire were edged out by 13 runs in a nail-biting Specsavers County Championship encounter with Gloucestershire at the Cheltenham Festival today.
The County were left a target of 246 and were bowled out with 35 balls to spare of a see-saw encounter on a wicket which always offered some encouragement to the bowlers but on which batsman could prosper if they were able to get ‘in.’
The game was a magnificent advert for county cricket, ebbing and flowing throughout and setting up a final day full of tension for players, coaches and supporters alike.
Riki Wessels (42) gave the Worcestershire innings early momentum and then Callum Ferguson (63) and Ben Cox (42) looked to have put together a match winning stand.
But Gloucestershire’s attack kept up the pressure throughout the day despite being without Matt Taylor through injury and they edged over the line with Worcestershire Club Captain Joe Leach unbeaten on 15 when the innings ended.
Worcestershire clawed themselves back into the hunt after a disappointing second session with the ball on the opening day allowed Gloucestershire to reach a total of 354 which was above par.
There were excellent first innings contributions with the bat from Ross Whiteley (88) and Brett D’Oliveira (66) after Leach’s 6-79 had included his 300th first class wicket.
Ed Barnard and Wayne Parnell particularly impressed with the ball in Gloucestershire’s second innings in which the whole attack bowled with great discipline.
But the County just fell short at the death and had to settle for five bonus points.
Gloucestershire resumed their second innings on 149-8 – a lead of 210 – with David Payne and Ethan Bamber the not out batsmen.
D’Oliveira and Parnell opened the bowling for Worcestershire but it was the first change duo of Barnard and Adam Finch who polished off the innings.
Payne (22) was well caught at short cover by Daryl Mitchell off Barnard for 22 to end a partnership of 40 in 12.1 overs with Bamber.
Last man Matt Taylor (1) edged Finch through to keeper Cox to leave Bamber undefeated on 12.
Barnard finished with the superb figures of 15-6-17-3, Parnell 17-5-37-3, Leach 12-3-27-1, Dillon Pennington 9-3-13-1, Finch 9.3-2-41-1 and D ‘Oliveira 14-6-40-1.
There was still enough in the pitch to encourage the seam bowlers and Mitchell nicked the first ball of the Worcestershire innings from David Payne through to keeper James Bracey.
Wessels was full of attacking intent from the start and lofted Payne over long on for six.
He picked up two boundaries in a first over from Ryan Higgins costing 15 runs, flaying the first one back past the bowler for four and cover-driving another to the ropes.
Ferguson off drove Ethan Bamber for four and played himself in alongside Wessels during a stand of 73 in 15 overs.
Wessels, having made 42 off just 44 balls with one six and five fours, was dismissed to the final ball before lunch when he went to cut spinner Tom Smith and was caught behind.
Gloucestershire appeared to have seized the initiative when Higgins struck twice in three overs.
Barnard (10) went for a cut and gave Bamber his third catch of the innings and Ross Whiteley (0) was lbw at 100-4.
Ferguson continued to accumulate, profiting from the cut shot which brought him boundaries off Smith and Benny Howell.
He was joined by Cox who proved an ably ally and when on 26 he became the first Worcestershire player to complete 500 Championship runs this summer.
The County’s vice-captain achieved that milestone when he leg glanced Higgins to the boundary.
Ferguson clipped Smith off his legs for two to reach a 129 ball half century, containing five fours, in the last over before tea when Worcestershire’s total stood on 146-4.
The Australian batsman also clocked up 500 Championship runs for the summer with a single off Higgins.
The Ferguson-Cox partnership was worth 81 in 29 overs before the latter on a composed 42 holed out to Higgins at mid-on off Bamber.
Ferguson was dismissed three overs later for 63 when he played back to Howell, looking to work the ball through point, and nicked through to Bracey.
His 166 ball knock contained six boundaries.
D’Oliveira (11) pushed forward to Howell and was taken by sub George Hankins – deputising for Matt Taylor who was unable to bowl – at slip with the total 198-7.
Leach and Parnell joined forces with 48 needed for victory and went on the offensive.
Parnell lofted Howell over gulley and off drove him for two boundaries in the same over and Leach did the same via cover drive and straight drives at Payne’s expense.
But Higgins returned to bowl Parnell (15) and Pennington (0) in the space of three balls and last man Finch (0) fended a Payne delivery to second slip.