Honours even at the end of day four between Gloucestershire and Middlesex

29 April 2024

Gloucestershire's wait for a Vitality County Championship victory on home soil continued as their Second Division match against Middlesex at the Seat Unique Stadium in Bristol petered out into a draw.

On a day which began with all three results still possible, Middlesex did their utmost to force a result by declaring their second innings on 449-7 and setting the home side a target of 339 to win in 58 overs on a hybrid pitch offering negligible assistance to the bowlers.

The visitors still fancied they had an outside chance of prevailing when reducing their opponents to 102-3 in the final session with 27 overs still available, but Ollie Price displayed resilience in compiling an unbeaten 52 as Gloucestershire reached 127-3 to frustrate London ambition.

Resuming their second innings on 262-3, Middlesex had earlier played positively in adding a further 187 in 36 overs, Ryan Higgins top-scoring with 155 and sharing in a stand of 202 for the fourth wicket with Max Holden, who contributed 111. Stephen Eskinazi's breezy 65 not out prompted the declaration, which came half an hour into the afternoon session. 

Forced to contend with a cold and blustery wind and battleship grey skies - hardly conditions conducive to a successful run chase - Gloucestershire were never in a position to realistically pursue a first red ball win since September 2022. Their 11-point haul from this game saw Middlesex overtake Sussex and assume leadership of the table after four matches, while Gloucestershire collected 13 points to move off the bottom.

Starting the day with a handy lead of 143, Middlesex were intent upon hastening to a point where they could declare their second innings and set Gloucestershire a target. As such, Holden and Higgins picked up where they left off the previous evening, going for their shots and looking to carry the attack to the bowlers. 

When Holden slashed at one delivery outside off stump too many and was held by Ollie Price at second slip off the bowling of Ajeet Singh Dale, the fourth wicket partnership stood at 201 from 39.4 overs. Having added just six runs to his overnight tally, Holden fell on 111, his transformative innings spanning 154 balls and containing 15 fours and a six.

Undeterred by the departure of his long-time partner, the ebullient Higgins went to 150 in the grand manner, hoisting Graeme van Buuren high over deep mid-wicket and into the car park for his fifth maximum. He was out to the next ball, again attempting to hit Gloucestershire's captain out of the ground and skying a catch to mid-off. 

In terms of it's longevity, this latest innings might not have matched the career-best 221 Higgins compiled against Glamorgan at Lord's three weeks earlier, but it certainly exerted a more profound impact upon proceedings. Having arrived in the middle on day three with Middlesex in some discomfort at 79-3, he departed with the score on 352-5 and the visitors in a position to dictate terms for the first time in the contest. 

Gloucestershire trailed by 234 when they took the new ball which realistically represented their last opportunity to wrest back control of the game. Marchant de Lange and Singh Dale bent their backs, 

only for the flow of runs to continue as Eskinazi and Jack Davies joined forces in a progressive alliance of 45 in nine overs. Davies eventually holed out to mid-on off the bowling of De Lange, but only after plundering 5 fours and a six to put a dent in the South African's figures.

Deploying a characteristically unorthodox approach, Eskinazi contributed an unbeaten 65 from 96 balls with 8 fours, his innings a hit and miss affair that served to raise the tempo. Gloucestershire's best efforts with the new ball would have done little to encourage the Middlesex bowlers in the belief that they could take 10 wickets on a hybrid pitch to win the game, but the declaration arrived nevertheless, Leus du Plooy calling the batsmen in with the scoreboard on 449-7 shortly after lunch.

Required to score at a little under six an over, Gloucestershire's batsmen were no doubt mindful of the alarming second innings collapse that sent them spiraling to defeat at the hands of Sussex in their last game. When Chris Dent succumbed to a leg-side strangle at the hands of Tom Helm without scoring in the second over, the home side could have been excused for harbouring negative thoughts.

Any fears of a repeat performance were allayed by Cameron Bancroft and Price, the second wicket pair proving reassuringly obdurate in the face of testing spells from Helm and Henry Brookes to see Gloucestershire through to the tea interval at 69-1.

Although the prospect of the home side scoring a further 262 runs to win in the final session remained no better than notional, there appeared to be precious little in the hybrid pitch to offer Middlesex any encouragement. Clearly undeterred, Helm removed Bancroft for 32 shortly after tea, locating the Australian's outside edge and presenting an opportunity for du Plooy to demonstrate his athleticism at second slip.

Price was fortunate to survive when dropped by Eskinazi at first slip off the bowling of Ethan Bamber, but the seamer breathed new life into the contest when inducing Miles Hammond to pull straight to mid-wicket soon afterwards. When Price and James Bracey proved obdurate, the two sides shook hands at 5.25pm with 18.3 overs unused.



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