Alleyne leads from the front

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The Independent Online

reports from Cheltenham

Gloucestershire 400 and 285-7 Essex 244 and 437 Gloucs win by three wickets

These are heady days for Glou- cestershire. There is a spirit of self-belief abroad in the West Country. An unexpected victory over Essex yesterday rounded off a thoroughly successful fortnight here. As festivals go in this town, cricket is definitely the fringe version, ceding top billing to March's four-day National Hunt gathering of horseflesh. But the summer meet is no bad thing.

This year they profited on all fronts. Two County Championship victories, which lifted Gloucestershire to a glorious fifth place in the table; a Sunday League triumph over Lancashire, and they also came out on top against the precocious Australian youngsters.

All that success had their supporters queuing in Bristol for NatWest quarter-final tickets, in readiness for today's tie there against Northamptonshire. And of course there was the income generated at the festival, a record according to the county's chief executive, Philip August, up from last year's pounds 36,000 to around pounds 50,000 with ticket prices pegged back to the 1994 level.

This win was achieved in the face of daunting odds. They had been reduced to 10 batsmen for both innings. Their captain, Jack Russell, was away on England duty and Mark Alleyne had to take charge for the first time in the Championship.

He did not let anyone down. Following up a first-innings half-century with a match-winning 141, a timely first Championship hundred of the season as Gloucestershire, needing 282 for victory, knocked off the runs with apparent ease and just a couple of hiccups on the way.

Alleyne was at the crease for four hours and put on a crucial 143 for the fifth wicket with Andrew Symonds, who achieved Alleyne's feat in reverse, adding 57 to his first-innings hundred. Alleyne's effort was not chanceless. The usually reliable Nasser Hussain put down a chance at point when Alleyne was barely into his stride on 34.

When Alleyne fell he was caught in the very place he had been dropped earlier, this time Peter Such making no mistake, hanging on to a straightforward chance with Alleyne looking for his 22nd boundary. But, with a few alarms, Martyn Ball and Javagal Srinath nudged them home.