Nervous Gloucestershire grateful for Ben Charlesworth amid Bristol gloom
Gloucestershire 80 for 6 (Charlesworth 35*) v Northamptonshire
Any morning sense of foreboding around Nevil Road was easy to understand. Never mind the poor weather forecast or the strong form of Northamptonshire. Two unhappy facts seemed much more pertinent: Gloucestershire's dreadful record at their headquarters and the guarantee that Northants would enjoy the best of conditions by virtue of being the visiting side.
But even at their most pessimistic, members cannot have imagined just how precariously their side would be teetering after the opening skirmishes of a critical encounter. Needing nine points for certain promotion to the first division, Gloucestershire must now add 120 more runs for the last four wickets simply to secure the single batting point that could still guarantee their passage with a draw.
It may well be that Glamorgan, their rivals, fail to beat Durham, or do so with insufficient points and enable Gloucestershire to progress. Equally, rain may bucket down in the right place for them at the right time, as it did here through Monday afternoon. Gloucestershire, though, have made the task harder than it needs to be through bad batting, misjudgements and a touch of sheer bad luck.
None of which will bother Northamptonshire, who are halfway towards the four points they need to complete their own promotion. As expected, they eschewed the toss, bowling first at a ground which gives the seamers less and less help as play develops. And while they took until the tenth over to break through, they then lacerated a jittery top order to take control.
Gloucester's poor run at Bristol precedes the 2016 directive allowing away sides to insert the hosts. But results certainly haven't improved since. Stretching back to 2014, they have won only four out of 31 games at headquarters, with ten losses and 17 draws. Both home victories this season occurred at Cheltenham; at Bristol they have a draw and two defeats.
Yet opportunity springs from despair, and the unbeaten 35 by Ben Charlesworth allowed a little something to cheer. He is 18 (though he looks younger), left-handed and passed a more searching examination than anything in the A-level papers he recently sat. Composed and mature, he seemed to have time for his shots which included a couple of very stylish off drives.
St Edward's School, in Oxford, has a strong cricketing reputation. Alumni include Miles Hammond, batting at No. 3 in this game. Further back there is Teddy Wynyard, an Edwardian Test player and FA Cup winner with Old Carthusians, international tobogganer, WG Grace impersonator, Army major and feared martinet. He would have had something to say about certain dismissals here.
Charlesworth, the latest product, is planning a more monochromatic career: despite grades of A-A-B in history, geography and economics he will not be heading to university. But he does anticipate going to Antigua and South Africa with England Under-19s this winter having completed the first year of a three-year contract with Gloucestershire. A county captain in the making, almost certainly.
He took a realistic view of proceedings after play was called off at 3.50pm. "On another day, we might be 80 for three," he said. "Three of the wickets were unfortunate and left us behind the eight-ball. I don't think the pitch has a lot in it, it is not an 80 for six pitch by any means. There is plenty of batting to come and we can still get past 200, then we are right in the game."
David Sales, the Northamptonshire batting coach, agreed with Charlesworth's assessment of the surface. "We thought it was a bit flat after the first two overs," he admitted. "We thought it would be hard work and I guess we picked up a couple of lucky wickets with the run outs. We were delighted to have them six-down by lunch."
It was rather like a drill pushing against wood: slow, grinding work before the tool thrusts forward once through the hole. Gloucestershire saw Brett Hutton out of the attack and were dealing carefully with Ben Sanderson until James Bracey drove a little loosely to give Sanderson his 59th wicket of the season, thus starting a collapse of four wickets for five runs in 23 balls.
Hammond edged to second slip where Hutton took a good catch low to his left before the critical run out of Chris Dent, Gloucestershire's leading scorer this season. Gareth Roderick pushed into the off side and surprised his partner by running. Hesitation may have been slight but it allowed Luke Procter to collect from cover, set a steady base and throw down the stumps: an exemplary piece of fielding.
Worse followed when Roderick was lbw next over despite Sanderson, the bowler, being slightly late with his appeal. And if Dent was partly culpable for his demise then George Hankins, who was playing capably, suffered terrible fortune when Doug Bracewell deflected a good return drive by Charlesworth on to the stumps at the bowler's end for the second run-out.
Charlesworth managed to put the dismissal behind him, but his job became harder again when Ryan Higgins fed square leg with an ill-advised pull off Bracewell. The sunshine of the first session gave way to gloomier skies during lunch and only two balls were possible on the resumption. Plenty of time for Gloucester to stew as Glamorgan made progress of their own in the north-east.