Sussex 73 for 0 (Salt 53*, Wells 6*) trail Gloucestershire 200 (Bracey 61) by 127 runs
Studies in Texas have revealed that it took a meteorite hitting Earth at a force ten billion times the power of the Hiroshima bomb to wipe out the dinosaurs. Bowlers at flat-track Bristol must often feel they need something equivalent to remove 20 batsmen, and one theory for Gloucestershire’s surge to second place in Division Two is their high ratio of games at Cheltenham to headquarters this season.
Surprise all round, then, at the clatter of wickets on a slightly untypical surface that, while slow, has offered signs of variable bounce. Sussex capitalised by dismissing Gloucestershire for only 200 in 77.5 overs in a game that they might not quite need to win to remain in contention for promotion, but can hardly afford to lose to a side four places and 30 points ahead of them at the start.
Things are so tight that three successive wins, including two at Cheltenham, have propelled Gloucester from second-from-bottom in mid-July to next-to-top. They also boast most batting points in the division, but could add only one more this time as too many players made starts before losing their way against generally well-disciplined bowling and reliable fielding.
Only the composed James Bracey made a serious contribution before becoming the first of two victims in a fine spell by Chris Jordan after lunch. The England bowler swung the ball from lines that made both right and left-handers play consistently. When Bracey nibbled, Ben Brown took an excellent, low catch in front of first slip, and Tom Smith did well even to edge one that compelled a stroke.
Any hope that Gloucester might then end the day more positively was denied as they failed to break through with the new ball. Shannon Gabriel has been signed for the sound and obvious reason that his extra pace gives sharper teeth to the attack, but spells from both ends proved erratic and expensive despite the odd one signalling menace as well as promise. Maybe he was trying too hard.
Phil Salt almost edged an attempted hook behind having been rushed into the stroke, but the vehement appeal was rejected and Salt proceeded to play the best shot of the day, a lovely, fierce off-drive when David Payne overpitched. As if that was not enough, Ryan Higgins found himself warned for running on the pitch, the penultimate misfortune of a rotten old day.
The final ignominy arrived as the shadows neared the square when Salt struck four boundaries in a row off Gabriel to complete a half-century from 56 balls. If Gabriel thought that Salt would hang on the back foot expecting bouncers the hope proved wishful as half-volleys were stroked through the off side. Thanks to Salt’s positive attitude the deficit has already been cut (or driven) to 127.
“They got away from us at the end, but if we can stand up and fight for a bit tomorrow we can get back in the game,” Bracey said. “It always seems to be low and slow here, it does a little bit for the first couple of sessions but come tea we hope to be no more than four-down rather than six-down as we were this time. That does make it hard. Hopefully we can be a bit more precise.”
Without a big innings or anything more than a three-fer the day was not one for the painters or the poets. But there was scope for comedians in a stoppage of several minutes when glare from an open doorway in a flat at the Ashley Down Road End disturbed Matt Taylor, the batsman. Unfortunately, the home-owner wasn’t at immediate hand to shut it.
Umpire Ben Debenham could only shout from the boundary to the nearest neighbour for advice and help in spreading the word. This well-tanned, second-floor resident was bare of chest, in holiday blue shorts and sandals, and did not look prepared to have his half-hour of sun worship interrupted by a man in a white coat. Play resumed, the episode a footnote and the spectator back catching his rays.
Gloucester actually started solidly, undaunted under cloudy sky with the floodlights on. Bracey made an immediate impact when he moved up to open in the previous game against Derbyshire and started to look good value for a second century, leaving and defending well without ever getting bogged down against a very varied attack.
But Gareth Roderick was bowled shouldering arms and another important moment came when Miles Hammond top-edged George Garton’s second ball into the off side. A happy moment for Garton, briefly an England squad member on the 2017-18 Ashes but here making his first Championship appearance since May last year. His skiddy, left-arm pace is still there, still promising.
Temba Bavuma ruled out of first Australia T20I with hamstring strain
Temba Bavuma has been ruled out of South Africa’s T20 series opener against Australia this Friday with a hamstring strain.
Bavuma sustained the injury while fielding against England at SuperSport Park on Sunday and will requite seven to 10 days rest. He will remain with the South African squad with a view to playing as early as this Sunday, in Port Elizabeth.
Bavuma’s diagnosis means that South Africa will go into the match one of the aspects of their game that worked best against England – their opening pair. Bavuma shared stands of 92, 48 and 84 with Quinton de Kock and started South Africa’s innings with intent.
With no replacement named in the squad, it is unclear who will join de Kock at the top of the order. Jon-Jon Smutshas some experience in the role, having opened in his first eight T20I innings, while Faf du Plessis has spent the last two IPL seasons at the top of the Chennai Super Kings order. Rassie van der Dussen, Heinrich Klaasen and the uncapped Pite van Biljon are alternative options.
Du Plessis, who stepped down from the captaincy on Monday, makes a return to the squad along with Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje after being rested from the England white-ball matches as South Africa look to continue experimenting with combinations ahead of the T20 World Cup later this year.
AB de Villiers, who is set to make a comeback at the event, is not involved in these matches but could play for South Africa after the IPL.
Ajaz Patel’s return signals an overhaul in New Zealand’s spin plans
The big news in the New Zealand Test squad, apart from the post-injury comeback for Trent Boult, was the return to the arena for 31-year-old left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel in place of Mitchell Santner. It’s a good change, as far as former batting coach Craig McMillan is concerned, because Patel “can pick up four or five wickets in a Test match”. As for Patel, he is just excited at the prospect of facing off against “some of the best in the world”.
“Mitchell Santner, over a period of time, has done a holding role for New Zealand. And that’s down quite often to the conditions in New Zealand that aren’t really conducive to have the ball turning much. It’s the seamers who do all the damage and take most of the wickets,” McMillan, who finished up with the team after the 2019 50-over World Cup, told Radio Sport.
Gary Stead, the New Zealand head coach, had welcomed Patel’s inclusion when the squad was announced, saying, “It’s a slight change in role we’re looking in terms of that position being one where we can take wickets and focus hard on that.”
McMillan liked what he heard from Stead: “It’s good to hear, because Ajaz Patel is better than being just a holding spinner. He’s got over 230 first-class wickets [235 in 62 matches], so he knows how to bowl in New Zealand. So I hope they use him in an attacking role. They need to have a spinner who can pick up four or five wickets in a Test match. And Ajaz Patel is certainly a guy who could do that. So I thought it was encouraging to hear, and it will be interesting to see how they use him, because that’s one of the keys, when you have spinners in your side, it’s the time to use them and how to use them.
“I feel my game’s pretty adaptable. So I’m going to just see what the conditions are and what the scenario and situation is and try to play to that”
“I hope they give him the opportunity to continue bowling how he does at the domestic level at the international level, because I think he can do a really good job, pick up wickets and be really useful in that New Zealand Test side.”
Patel has played only seven Test matches since his debut in 2018, five of them in Asian conditions and only two in New Zealand, where the stress has been on pace with Santner trying to keep things tight without really being much of an attacking option. In the last 12 months, Santner has played one Test in Sri Lanka, two at home against England, and two in Australia, and picked up only five wickets in those games at an average of 96.80. The other spinners in the mix have been Todd Astle, who has since retired from red-ball cricket, and Will Somerville, who both played the New Year’s Test in Sydney on the back of an illness crisis in the squad.
Back in the scheme of things now, Patel is looking forward to going up against Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and the rest of the mighty India batting line-up.
“It’s a fantastic challenge. I suppose as a spinner, testing yourself against some of the best players in the world, it’s a great challenge and it’s something that you should, really, enjoy and cherish,” he said. “At the end of the day, I suppose, at some point in my career, I want to be known as the best in the world. So to be able to challenge some of the best in the world, it’s a great opportunity and a challenge, something that I look forward to.”
Whether he gets that chance or not depends on the Basin Reserve pitch. If it’s green, as McMillan pointed out, “perhaps playing a fourth seamer, which means Kyle Jamieson might get a run”.
Patel understands that. “I suppose it depends on the surface and the scenarios of the game,” he said of the role he expects to play. “Either way, I am going to try and contribute in any way that I can, whether it be with the ball, with the bat, in the field. If it requires me to try and take wickets, then I’m going to try to do that, if it requires me to try and restrict runs, then I’ll try and do that. I feel my game’s pretty adaptable. So I’m going to just see what the conditions are and what the scenario and situation is and try to play to that.
“The Basin could be quite interesting, I suppose. It depends on what kind of day it is and what kind of week you get. If you get a nice, sunny week, the wicket dries up pretty quickly. Although if there’s a bit of overcast conditions, that can be a bit different as well. And obviously you have the wind factor. There’s a lot of things you’ve got to think about at the Basin, but once again, it’s kind of adapting your game to whatever presents itself, and that’s probably one of the great things about Test cricket. You get different challenges thrown at you and you have to learn to adapt.”
What could have gone against Santner, apart from just his own moderate returns, was the fact that even as he picked up just one wicket in two Tests on the December 2019 tour of Australia, Nathan Lyon topped the wicket-takers’ chart with 20 wickets in three Tests, all of which Australia won.
Did that show up Santner, as well as New Zealand’s use with their frontline spinner? “I think it did in many ways,” McMillan agreed. “[Santner’s numbers] sort of stands out in itself, because his core role in the side is to pick up wickets as a spinner, not as a batsman. And he was getting picked in the side to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And New Zealand, with the bowling line-up they’ve got, need a spinner who can contribute four or five wickets a Test match, which just takes some pressure off the likes of [Tim] Southee, [Neil] Wagner and Boult.”
Dimitri Mascarenhas signs two-year deal with Middlesex as T20 bowling coach
Dimitri Mascarenhas has signed a two-year deal to stay on as Middlesex’s specialist T20 bowling coach.
Mascarenhas, whose arrival at the county last summer coincided with an upturn in results in short-form cricket, has held several coaching roles since his retirement from the game in 2014, including stints with New Zealand, Otago, Melbourne Renegades and Otago.
He will also be an assistant coach to Shane Warne in the Hundred next season, staying at Lord’s alongside Eoin Morgan following the Blast to work with London Spirit.
“Dimi’s laid back, calm persona is a great asset and his coaching style reflects this trait,” said Stuart Law, Middlesex’s director of cricket.
“He has simple methods that resonate well with the boys and allows the players to grow, while guiding them through. We’re really looking forward to working with Dimi again during the T20 Blast campaign this season.”
Middlesex reached the knock-out stages of the Blast for only the second time since winning the competition in 2008 last season, with their five-man bowling attack coming to the fore.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman has signed to return as an overseas player, while the Cricketer magazine has reported that Law hopes to sign an allrounder alongside him, with Mitchell Marsh one possible target. AB de Villiers is unlikely to return, with the Blast directly following the IPL season and workload management a concern ahead of a potential international comeback in time for the T20 World Cup.
“I loved my time last year and felt we made some progress on the bowling front and as a team,” said Mascarenhas. “The opportunity to work with Stu Law and Nic Pothas, two international-level coaches, is extremely exciting and brilliant for my development.
“The squad is very similar to last season and I’m sure we can make a huge play for the finals again. I can’t wait to join up with the squad and continue what we started last year.”
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