12:10pm Monday 1st August 2011
THE best Festival this century – that was the general verdict on the 2011 cricket at Cheltenham. Weather, cricket, crowds and companionship all combined to make every day enjoyable.
There was landmark controversy, too, from Mark Ramprakash, and the sad news that Jon Lewis is leaving the county after 16 years.
Cricket first. The Championship victory over Kent, was followed by a one-day win over Essex. A very young bowling attack put Gloucestershire in an unassailable position.
Two 17-year-olds, yet to complete their A-levels and a very lively James Fuller reduced Essex to 59-7. With Craig Miles (Purton) and Matt Taylor (Great Tew) bowling in tandem we saw two schoolboys sharing the attack. Has this ever happened anywhere? They were splendidly backed up by Jack Taylor (19) and Ed Young (21).
This young attack was surprisingly broken up for the final game against Lancashire with senior bowlers Saxelby and Payne playing. Despite a fine batting display and a total of 291 the match was lost. Some of the bowling was so short many of the bowlers could be suffering with bruised toes. Our total could have been greater but boundary basher Kevin O'Brien was held back and only faced four overs. Maddening!
The championship match against Surrey was a magnificent one. On the first day, the Surrey bowling was the best Gloucestershire have faced all season. On the second day, Ramprakash led them to a lead of 140. Managing more than 300 in our second innings, with Chris Dent from the Thornbury Club scoring his maiden century, Surrey were set a reasonable target. Amid much excitement they reached it with two wickets to spare.
In the first Surrey innings we had seen the best of Ramprakash - in the second we saw the worst. When going for a second run in response to his partner's call Mark was running to the bowler's end. The umpires agreed he had intentionally prevented the throw in reaching Ian Saxelby, who was at the wicket, hoping for a run out. For the first time in England since 1951 (Len Hutton, England v South Africa) a batsman was given out obstructing the field.
Ramprakash found the decision difficult to accept and remonstrated to the umpires. Captain Alex Gidman led his brothers away and all could witness the batsman's dissent. When he finally returned to the pavilion he checked his journey and took a few steps back continuing the argument. It was the worst case of dissent I have seen on the field.
During the game it was announced that Jon Lewis was leaving to join Surrey. Their cricketing budget is £700,000 greater than ours, and they are able to easily outbid other counties, and they do!
Jon, like other out of contract players, Hamish Marshall and Chris Taylor, was to have been offered a contract but not until after planning permission has been granted on ground development.
The loss of £400,000 in the last two years is understandably causing caution, but our cricketers need reassurance as well. I wish a different way forward could be found and I know the board is anxious to retain quality players. The delayed contract decision is a risky one - any rich county can come shopping.
It is, for everyone, an unsatisfactory position and especially so as it seems player loyalty is not being rewarded. Every effort must be made to reassure our cricketers this is not the case. They are our greatest asset and must be treated as such.
Fifty years ago one of our greatest cricketers left. He felt undervalued and in the absence of deserved reassurance left for Worcestershire. Tom Graveney as both player and man always graced the game, setting high personal and playing standards.
Gravel grandee Roger Cullimore has been the inspiration behind a presentation to Tom and this happened at the Festival.
It was for so many of us the event of the week, but it did not overshadow the onfield performance of cricketers from Thornbury, Great Tew, Purton, Bristol or Rodborough Common. Eat your heart out Surrey.
© Copyright 2001-2013 Newsquest Media Group