Maths goes out the window as draw and promotion beckon for Gloucestershire and Northants
Gloucestershire 220 for 7 (van Buuren 93, Charlesworth 77*) v Northamptonshire
We might be living through strange times, but surely not so strange that either of these counties will now be denied promotion to the first division. Rain has made a mockery of the myriad equations so let's be done with arithmetic and talk the simple language of cricket: Glamorgan must bat with the precision of Donald Bradman at the speed of Brian Lara, then take wickets at the strike rate of SF Barnes to beat Durham and stop Northamptonshire and Gloucestershire from going up.
The game here at Nevil Road is heading for a draw, probably of the dullest and soggiest variety. That will matter not a jot in the wider context. Nor will Northamptonshire lament a strangely disengaged performance on Wednesday when they took only a single wicket and Gloucestershire claimed the batting point they needed to ensure promotion remains entirely in their own hands. They require a draw plus three more points with either bat or ball. A mere draw will do for Northants.
Concern around noon on Monday when Gloucester collapsed to 67 for 6 had dissipated - drowned is perhaps a better way of putting it - by the time Graeme van Buuren pushed Rob Keogh through extra cover for the boundary that carried Gloucester to the critical 200 mark. His stand of 151 with Ben Charlesworth began pre-lunch on day one and was ten minutes from continuing into the fourth when van Buuren, who scored 93, stabbed outside off stump to Gareth Berg and was caught behind.
The fact that Gloucester lost their first division status as far back as 2005 might explain why so many supporters stayed on with barely a murmur for the four-and-a-half hours between the scheduled start and eventual three o'clock beginning. Such a long and hard-fought return will be something to celebrate despite the absence of prize money for third place. Northamptonshire will receive £57,000 as runners-up to Lancashire.
In other circumstances, they might have grown more restless. It is hard to imagine the crowd at an international match behaving as placidly with the sun shining, the playing field open, nets in place and stumps beside the pitch ready to be inserted. Yet the place was a hive of inactivity through the morning save for the occasional sight of a player or the umpires wandering out, scraping the soles of their boots on problem areas and wincing their way back off.
With the situation even worse at Chester-le-Street, the slippy, sludgy areas around footmarks on the edges of used pitches might have suited both teams. Gloucester, in the weaker position, would have been content not to risk defeat. "Mud, mud, glorious mud," they must have sung, like Flanders and Swann, in the sanctity of their dressing room. Yet once umpires David Millns and Mike Burns did consider play to be possible, it was they who switched on quicker.
Van Buuren played and missed a couple of times against Ben Sanderson in the early exchanges and Charlesworth survived a reasonable appeal for leg-before by Keogh, the most dangerous of the bowlers on a surface offering some turn. Otherwise, the closest that Northants came to breaking the stand as it developed was a run out opportunity when Charlesworth was sent back by his partner, Keogh missing with the throw.
They made a tricky pair: Charlesworth tall, upright and left-handed, van Buuren a short, right-handed croucher. Van Buuren punched anything slightly short, especially through the off side, while Charlesworth's off-drives again flowed like cream from a jug. At 18, he is a prospect who will make crowds purr with his strokes. That in turn may lead to frustration if returns fall short of unreasonable expectations. He needs to be allowed to develop at his own pace.
"Ben is so solid," van Buuren said. "He makes bowlers look slow, he plays them with ease. It is a sexy forward defensive he has. He is an attractive player but he is already a good player too and you have to remember how young he is. I said to somebody yesterday how he reminds me so much of Aiden Markram, the way he loads up, stands still and has that same whirl of the bat. He is class."
Van Buuren is a friend of Markram, a fellow South African, who averages 43.80 from his first 17 Test matches. It is quite a compliment. He also drew a comparison with Chris Dent, blooded young by Gloucester but now their steadiest batsman approaching 9,000 career runs. Sanderson was generous too, praising Charlesworth for his temperament and judgement of what to leave.
Charlesworth has already equalled his career best; tomorrow would be quite a day to set a new one. Equally, while van Buuren was disappointed at missing his own hundred he could reflect on the more important picture. "We just have to rock up for one more day and play good, hard cricket," he said. "Stay grounded, keep humble and hopefully cricket will look after us in the end."