MATCH PREVIEW: Gloucestershire vs Lancashire
Chasing 329, a target set four overs before the end of day three at Edgbaston last week, Lancashire beat reigning champions Warwickshire by four wickets with 24 balls to spare, riding on a sensational unbeaten 175 for Luke Wells.
A third win of the season ensures the Red Rose remain on the coat-tails of leading duo Surrey (127 points) and Hampshire (124) at the halfway mark of the campaign.
Lancashire sit third on 108 points ahead of their forthcoming trip to the South West to take on bottom side Gloucestershire, who have lost five of seven games and drawn the other two.
They are on a three-game losing streak, each of them heavy defeats to Kent at Canterbury earlier this month and, last month, Somerset at home and Hampshire away.
One of their draws came against current leaders Surrey at home, but they were beaten by Lancashire at Emirates Old Trafford in April.
Gloucestershire were promoted back to Division One in 2019, alongside Lancashire.
But they had to wait for their first crack at top-flight cricket since 2005 due to Covid, with the last two seasons being run on a Conference based format.
However, it has not been a happy return for a side who are under a new coaching team led by head coach Dale Benkenstein and performance director Steve Snell.
Gloucester have fielded five different overseas players in this season’s Championship; Pakistan trio Mohammad Amir, Zafar Gohar and Naseem Shah, New Zealander Glenn Phillips and Australian Marcus Harris.
Further disruption has come with new captain Graeme van Buuren not playing since mid-May following a dislocated shoulder. All-rounder Ryan Higgins has been standing in as his deputy.
Left-handed opener Harris is their leading Championship run-scorer with 434 runs from five games, including two hundreds, while seamer Higgins is their leading wicket-taker with 17.
Opposing player to watch
Glenn Phillips, the powerful New Zealand batter, was initially signed solely to play in the Vitality Blast, but has stepped in to play in the Championship with Marcus Harris captaining Australia A on tour in Sri Lanka.
Phillips is a right-hander who has made his name with his performances against the white ball. But an impressive first-class record somewhat flies under the radar.
In Gloucestershire’s eight-wicket defeat against Kent at Canterbury last month, he posted middle order scores of 125 and 59. His first-innings century was his seventh in 45 first-class fixtures, and he averages 40.55.
He has played one Test for the Kiwis, against Australia in early 2020, and has played 35 T20 internationals.
With Harris only concluding commitments in Sri Lanka on Friday, Phillips is almost certain to deputise once again.
Lancashire claimed their second successive win to start the season, beating Gloucestershire by an innings and 57 runs at Emirates Old Trafford (April 21-24). Josh Bohannon and Hassan Ali were the standout performers.
But the victory wasn’t quite as easy as the innings and 57-run margin suggests, with the Red Rose only cracking Gloucester’s final day resistance with 17 balls remaining to back up the opening round win at Kent.
Having elected to bat, Gloucester were undone by Ali’s brilliant 6-47 from 17 overs, bowled out for 252 in 88 overs, including a trio of half-centuries - 67 from opener Marcus Harris the best of them.
In reply, Bohannon’s brilliant 231 from number three was the centrepiece of a 556-7 declared response which also saw Dane Vilas make 109. The pair shared 203 for the fourth wicket, into day three, to advance from 234-3.
Bohannon batted for nine-and-a-quarter hours for his career best score in good batting conditions.
Gloucestershire, 304 behind on first innings, began day four on 67-3 and were quickly reduced to 86-5.
However, resistance was started by Miles Hammond (50) and Tom Lace (71). And further contributions from seamers Josh Shaw and Jared Warner, who made 29 off 56 balls and 10 off 119 respectively, brought the result into doubt.
Gloucester were 214-8 at tea, but Saqib Mahmood and Ali claimed the last two wickets - Lace and Warner respectively - to seal the victory.
What they said
Steven Croft has hailed Lancashire’s final day performance at Warwickshire as “one of the best run chases I’ve seem”.
In pursuit of that 329, the Red Rose slipped to 56-3 during the latter stages of the fourth morning, with Croft departing for just 11. Victory looked a long, long way away, especially when they fell further to 93-4.
But Luke Wells and Rob Jones rekindled hopes with a brilliant 162 stand in 45 overs, the latter making an excellent 66 in support of the former Sussex opener.
Wells went on to make an unbeaten 175, ensuring Lancashire secured the third win in seven games.
“It was a good cricket wicket,” reflected Croft. “There was more than a bit there when you put it on a good spot, and Luke showed some great determination, skill and character.
“It shows what kind of a player he is to stay concentrated all day in the face of a pretty large total. It was a belter of an innings.
“Losing the players we did, it wasn’t our strongest side. But it was a great response (to being beaten at home by Essex in May). It was a win which keeps us in the hunt and somewhere near the top.”
Croft himself has been superb this year, in both Championship and T20 cricket. He is Lancashire’s leading run-scorer across both competitions combined.
In the former, he is one of three Lancashire batters to have broken the 400-run mark, with his 444 in seven games, including two hundreds, sitting only just behind Wells (458) and Dane Vilas (493).
In the Blast, he is the county’s leading run-scorer with 322 from 10 games, including two half-centuries.
Having praised the determination, skill and character of Wells, the same traits ring true for a 37-year-old who admitted: “I didn’t know how much I was going to play in the winter.
“But I got myself as fit as I could and have, luckily, played every game so far.
It’s very pleasing that we’re in a great position in the red and white ball. That’s the main thing.”
He added: “As long as your body holds up, you’re always up-skilling as a cricketer, with bat or ball. You learn new things each game and each year, and I do think you become a better cricketer the older you get.
“All the sticky periods throughout your career, you can draw upon to hopefully keep progressing.”
When Dane Vilas strides to the crease at Bristol, it will be his 100th first-class innings for Lancashire. He has scored 4,001 first-class runs for the county to date, averaging 44.95.
Of all the players to have scored 4,000 runs or more for Lancashire, only Stuart Law (55.63), John Crawley (51.13), Ashwell Prince (49.49), Mal Loye (46.68) & Ernest Tyldesley (45.20) have a higher average.
Vilas is fractionally ahead of Clive Lloyd’s 44.94 average.