GAME ON. After such a glorious see-saw of a day, it is hard to know which should be the most appropriate reaction - to celebrate the epic ebb and flow that only first-class cricket can offer the sports fan, or to bemoan the often spineless batting that made it possible.
In the case of the third day's play at Bristol - one has to specify the stage this game has reached, because the authorities could hardly have arrived at a more confusing fixture list if they had used confetti and a blender to arrange the schedule - there is an honourable compromise.
That is to pay tribute to 24-year-old Michael Cawdron, who first signed for Gloucestershire from Cheltenham College in 1994, and has had to wait this long to make his first-class debut. He marked it with 42 muscular first-innings runs and a bag of five wickets.
At close of play, Gloucestershire were 223 runs ahead with two second- innings wickets in hand. At no stage in the first two sessions of the day was such a finale predictable.
Gloucestershire may be Super Cup heroes and NatWest semi-finalists, but in the harsh world of the County Championship they began yesterday on the bottom rung of the ladder, while Hampshire were in third place and had earned more batting points than any other club. The home side's 380 was a good foundation, but by Friday night Hampshire had made a comfortable 105 for 1.
While the wicket remained blameless, their batting faltered yesterday. Jason Laney has developed a bad habit: four times this season he has come within one hit of a century, and blown it. In this case the hit was a hook off Jon Lewis, but Ben Gannon was waiting at long-leg. Presumably no one knows better than Laney that he must conquer this addiction, and emerge from the clinic into three-figure innings.
The dismissal of the captain, Robin Smith, was more excusable. His cut shot is one of the most exciting in the game, and yesterday morning he drilled a bullet towards the turf at extra cover. But Jeremy Snape, with wondrous reflexes, scooped it up from the grass. These two dismissals triggered the Hampshire decline.
Cawdron is a tall man on the swift side of medium, and yesterday he concentrated on the old virtues - line, length, bounce and silly batting. He ended with 5 for 35, and his last spell of 19 balls brought him four wickets for seven runs as Hampshire subsided in the sun from 231 for 4 to 253 all out.
It was a limp display, but then Gloucestershire minced out to match it. With the wickets fairly shared around among the visiting attack, the home batsmen came and went. After Peter Hartley had made the early inroads into the home defences, England's former one-day off-spinner, Shaun Udal, wheeled away at the Ashley Down Road End to put the visitors back into the match.
One does at least expect Jack Russell, whose stance is becoming more and more eccentric by the day, to get up the nose of the opposition, but after his first-innings heroics he soon found himself joining the queue for the showers.
By stumps, the opener Tim Hancock's 32 looked almost heroic. But a fascinating final day was in prospect.Reuse content