Gloucestershire’s dressing room is a scene of celebration. It’s September 2019, and a rain-affected draw against Northamptonshire in the final round of County Championship fixtures has ensured both sides’ promotion to Division One. With the two squads arm in arm, spraying champagne for the cameras, seamer David Payne leads the chant of “We are going up!”
Eighteen months later, one question remains: where are they going up to? The rejigged Championship structure has cost both clubs the opportunity to test themselves against the best players in the country, and while the official plan is to revert to two divisions in 2022, there is a sense that clubs might persevere with the conference-style system for this summer if it is deemed a success.
“The fact that we got promoted in 2019 and haven’t had our day in the sun is frustrating,” Will Brown, Gloucestershire’s chief executive, admitted. “We’re intrigued by the conference stuff but, having worked so hard to get into Division One… if we were to make a call today, we’d come down on the side of two divisional cricket still. We’re on the clear understanding that the default for 2022 is Division One and Two, based on the results in 2019.”
“I’m pretty mixed with it,” Chris Dent, the club captain, said. “Selfishly as a club, we’d have liked to have played in the first division. We haven’t had that chance to play in it and that is a bit disappointing. I would imagine most first-division teams are more disappointed with it, but we’ve all got to pull together and hopefully it’ll be a good format.”
And much as the squad were disappointed to miss out on the chance to play in Division One last summer, Dent admitted that a heavy defeat against Somerset, the eventual Bob Willis Trophy runners-up, had provided a reminder as to the gap that existed between the two levels.
“If we’d have been in the first division it would have been a pretty tough grind,” he said. “We’d have been looking initially to stay up and then do as well as we can. That loss against Somerset gave us a chance to reflect and have a good look at ourselves and think ‘actually, if this had been a normal season, we probably wouldn’t have been ready’. We probably underestimated what it was like to face those guys.”
The draw for this season’s Championship has not been particularly kind to Gloucestershire, whose group – containing Hampshire, Leicestershire, Middlesex, Somerset and Surrey – looks like the strongest on paper. Reinforcements are due soon in the shape of Kraigg Brathwaite and Daniel Worrall, while deals for Tom Lace and Jared Warner were finalised last summer as the club look to add depth to a talented squad.
Heading into his fourth season as captain, Dent admitted that selection would be tougher than ever this year with a slightly bigger squad, with Ian Cockbain and Benny Howell among those likely to miss out on selection at the start of the Championship season. Ryan Higgins has made major contributions with bat and ball and will continue to be the side’s talisman, while Dent’s own grit at the top of the order should prove invaluable once more.
Among those looking to make an early-season impression is James Bracey, who has spent the best part of five months shadowing the England team as a reserve over the last year. He reflected that life in biosecure bubbles involved some “tough days – but that’s not a crime” but is hopeful that he has made a good impression, and that a strong start to the Championship season will edge him closer to an international debut. He has signed a new long-term deal with his boyhood club, and has been appointed as Dent’s deputy for the season.
“1000 runs is always what you aim for,” he said. “I feel like that I still need that big season. With a run of nine games ahead to get into a rhythm… hopefully I’ll have three or four hundreds by the time that first Test comes around in June so that my name is in the hat.
“Those first introductions are so important. Ollie Pope said when he rocked up for his debut, he’d never met half the lads and it all happened very fast so hopefully it’ll be plain sailing for me when that opportunity does come. [England] have made it clear they are looking towards the Ashes and preparations this summer are for that. There’s no saying who’s going to be out there in the Tests in this summer but they’ve certainly made it clear that, if I can put performances together this summer, I’m a genuine option in Australia.”
Off the field, the club recorded a profit of over £300,000 for the last financial year – a remarkable feat in the circumstances, and thanks primarily to support from the ECB and the government. However, they are waiting nervously for further updates regarding the return of fans. In the month after the signposted lifting of Covid restrictions on June 21, they are due to host three T20 Blast games – including the derby against Somerset – as well as England men’s and women’s internationals and the Cheltenham Festival: any delay to that date could have major implications.
And there has been a big change within the coaching staff, too. After six years in post, head coach Richard Dawson left the club this week to start his new role at the ECB, with his assistant Ian Harvey stepping into the breach as interim head coach. The club will advertise for the full-time role towards the end of the season and insist they don’t want to make an appointment “behind closed doors”, but Brown accepts the year will serve as an “extended job interview” of sorts.
So will Harvey want the job on a full-time basis? “I’ll tell you that in six months,” he laughed. “The last few weeks have been a little bit hectic trying to get things in order, but Daws has got everything in place. Hopefully I can continue on with what Daws has been doing over the last six years over the next six months.”
Among his first moves has been to bring back Mark Alleyne, the club’s captain during their limited-overs dominance during the late 1990s and early 2000s, as an additional member of the support staff, whom he hopes will add valuable experience of success to the squad. The changing room has been through plenty together over the years, and Harvey – whose wife Amanda passed away in 2018 – is no exception.
“It’s brought the changing room together,” he said. “The support network that the guys have got and among the coaching staff has been unbelievable, really. To be able to come into the ground and have that support behind you has been brilliant. It’s been quite tough, but that’s made for a very close-knit dressing room which is a really good thing.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Recent Match Report – Essex vs Sussex South Group 2021
Skipper slams 75 from 44 to help make short work of small chase
Sussex 130 for 3 (Wright 75) beat Essex 128 for 8 (Garton 3-31) by seven wickets
The Blast’s all-time leading run-scorer missed the opening two rounds after splitting the webbing in his hand while practising fielding on the eve of the competition. But he made up for lost time by bringing up his fifty in 33 deliveries as Sussex chased down Essex’s below-par 128 for eight with 36 balls to spare.
Wright looked at home right from the start, with boundaries from his second and third deliveries – two of eight fours.
Opening partner Phil Salt earned a life when he bludgeoned a full toss to mid-on, only to earn a reprieve for the umpire to judge the ball to have been above waist-height, much to Simon Harmer’s chagrin. Salt was run out for 13, after putting on 54 with Wright before Travis Head added 60 together with the skipper.
Wright continued to his 26th Blast half-century, going past 8000 T20 career runs, with a pair of straight sixes and another over cow corner. He departed with six still needed but Delray Rawlins clattered the winning runs over long-off soon after.
Wright’s day had started perfectly as he won the toss and stuck the hosts in – although Will Buttleman struck successive sixes in the fourth over. On a used hybrid pitch, scoring proved difficult for Essex with only Buttleman, Michael Pepper and Jimmy Neesham’s strike rates topping 100, for those who reached double figures.
The strain on scoring was exemplified by the last over of the Powerplay, which saw just one run, as Paul Walter struggled to lay a bat on Chris Jordan – the run rate throughout the innings hovering just below seven an over.
To add to the Eagles’ woes, wickets were a regular occurrence. Tom Westley and Buttleman fell in the Powerplay – the former picking out deep midwicket off George Garton and the latter slapping a Tymal Mills slower ball to cover.
Walter was stumped, Ryan ten Doeschate clubbed old pal Ravi Bopara to long off, Pepper – having scored 38 off 25 balls – drilled to extra cover, Harmer miscued to midwicket, Jack Plom skied to mid-off and Neesham was comprehensively bowled.
Garton ended up with 3 for 31, with Mills, Jordan and Bopara all going at under a run-a-ball.
Eng vs Ind Women’s Test
“Maybe in the coming years it might also lead to a World Test Championship [for women]. You never know.”
“I feel this Test match and even the pink-ball Test, which is in Australia in the coming months, it’s just the beginning of having a three-format bilateral series,” Raj, India’s Test and ODI captain, said on the eve of the one-off Test against England in Bristol. “It probably opens up the channel to have another format added in a bilateral series and that will clearly help the overall standard of women’s cricket.
“Also, the players – I mean, you ask any modern-day cricketer, they still want to play the longer format because they eventually know that the format tests the skill of a player.”
The last time India played two or more Tests in a year was in 2014, which was also the last time they appeared in the format. The Bristol Test, which marks their return to red-ball cricket after a break of 2401 days, carries four points for a win under the multi-format system for the tour, which also includes three ODIs and three T20Is.
A draw will fetch the teams two points apiece and one point will be awarded for a no-result. Wins in the white-ball games will be worth two points each. The Ashes, which has been the only occasion that has involved Test matches in women’s cricket since 2014, follows the same grading system.
“It’s good to have the Test match in a series,” Raj said. ‘We [already] had the one-dayers and the T20Is. Maybe in the coming years it might also lead to a World Test Championship [for women]. You never know. This is just the beginning. I hope we continue to have bilateral series where all three formats are there.”
The announcement of both the Test against England and the pink-ball game against Australia, scheduled for September-October, was an unexpected development in Indian women’s cricket. On the international circuit, the ODI World Cup and the Commonwealth Games, to be played in the T20 format, both scheduled for next year, and the 2023 T20 World Cup remain the focal points of India’s long-term preparations. In domestic cricket, no red-ball tournaments for women’s cricketers have been held in India since the 2017-2018 season.
“There were a few sessions that we tried to have in the whites so that the girls don’t get [intimidated] when they walk into the ground tomorrow because for most of them it’s their first time getting into the ground in the whites,” Raj said. “That is one thing [Powar] tried to get into the sessions. There were four-five sessions where we trained together as a team in the whites, so we get a feel of it in the nets sessions and it doesn’t feel alien for the girls when they get onto the ground.
“He also got the seniors to speak to the other players who are less experienced about the format about the last time we played a Test match, so there was a lot of communication with Jhulan talking to the fast bowlers and I’m talking to the batters. So, I think when you have this communication going, it sort of gets the team get collectively prepared for the Test match.”
“In terms of marketing the sport, I think it is great to have a Test match live on television because clearly, a lot of people will follow, now with the pandemic [on] and there’s partial restrictions everywhere [because of lockdowns], so a lot of people will be watching the game,” she said. “As far as the players are concerned, it is equally important [to play well in this Test match]. Seven years back, the scenario was very different for women’s cricket.
“Having said that, that team never really thought whether the match is [covered] live or not; it never really crosses a players mind as long as we get in there and we put forward our best performance. Whether it is covered live or not, that’s [not] the players’ lookout. We are there to get there and give our best standard, and if it’s covered live, nothing like it because that’s how the sport will grow being viable.”
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha
Warwickshire close to signing Che Simmons, 17-year-old dubbed ‘new Jofra Archer’
Barbadian fast bowler has UK passport and impressed on trial with 2nd XI
Having made an excellent impression, Simmons is expected to be offered a deal which might well include some type of scholarship in order that he can complete his education in the UK. He currently attends Combermere School, which has a rich history of producing top players. As well has current West Indies Test captain, Kraigg Brathwaite, Wes Hall, Clyde Walcott, Frank Worrall and Chris Jordan also attended the school. So did the singer, Rihanna.
A fast bowler with a beautiful smooth run-up and action, Simmons has represented Barbados Under-15s and came to prominence by claiming all 10 wickets in an innings while playing for the Franklyn Stephenson Academy. He finished with the remarkable figures of 10 for 16 from 5.3 overs. Only two of the runs he conceded came off the bat.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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