Friday 11th June 2021 – The Vitality T20 Blast – The County Ground, Bristol
One of the many valuable lessons in life my Dad taught me was never head west on the M4 on a sunny Friday afternoon. Out of all of the life lessons he gave me (always hold the door open for a woman/girl, never pour water on a chip pan, never twist when you are on 18 in blackjack), this is one that I’ve rarely remembered. After, all it isn’t often I would be going that way in general, let alone on a Friday when the sun was out.
I’ve been stuck on the Oakhampton Bypass, the A303 at Salisbury and the M4/M5 junction for hours in my life as we headed down to Cornwall for our summer holidays. Whilst the roads have become wider, the cars more comfortable and the days of summer less frequent, the traffic jams have got worse. For my second game in 24 hours I was heading to Bristol for a first visit to the County Ground and Gloucestershire’s opening game in the T20 Blast. But first, I was heading to Newport for a pick up from the Tiny Rebel brewery, then to Chepstow for the racing before finally heading to Bristol.
Except it was Friday and it was a sunny weekend in store. A 10am departure from SE London should have seen me in Newport around 1pm. At 1pm I had limped as far as Reading Services, thanks to multiple issues on the M25. Tony Brewery stop binned, it was no onto Cheptsow, a stone’s throw over the original Severn Crossing. First race, 1.20pm came and went before I had reached the A34, 2pm and 2.35pm before the Bath turn off and finally over the bridge and briefly into Wales at 3:15pm. I saw 3 races in total, lost in all three and then headed back to Bristol, a far less problematic journey of 25 minutes.
Someone, somewhere in English cricketing and architecture circles must have originally come up with the idea of building flats overlooking the grounds in recent years. Whilst the balconies at Canterbury are owned by retirees, giving a more County Championship feel to proceedings, the residents of the apartments here in Bristol appeared to be very much in the T20 spirit, already firing up the grills, wearing the silly hats and tucking into the beers on a grey, slightly chilly evening.
Naturally, as sporting events are these days, this was a sell-out in front of a limited numbered crowd of just over 3,500. Whilst the County Ground is relatively basic in terms of features (most of the stands were temporary seating, with the black pavilion at the far end adding a strange, impersonal feeling to it, it is the fans that make the atmosphere and judging by the fancy dress and big queues for the bars, we would be in for a decent evening.
Why can’t venues sort out issues with bars before the fans arrive? There would be less than 30% of the capacity in the ground for this game yet 30 minutes before the start there were long queues. It seemed one issue was that the card machines were declining everyone’s cards. An issue with the connection perhaps? Not according to the guy running the bar – it was everyone else’s issue. “Try holding it up mate?” He dismissed the idea until one of the girls serving tried it, and the payment went through straight away.
Gloucester had been poor in the County Championship game I’d seen at The Oval two weeks ago, but this was a different team, different format. Sussex won the toss and decided to field first, including sixteen year old Archie Lenham in their side, making him the second youngest ever player in the competition.
Gloucs opener Miles Hammond got the game off to an explosive start, hitting two sixes in the opening overs before being the first wicket to fall with 30 on the board after just 15 balls but George Garton proved to be the star turn for the visitors, removing both visitors in his 4 over spell for just 19 runs and 3 wickets. The home side made hard work of the Sussex bowling, with everyone reaching double figures bar the two not out batsmen, setting a target of 178.
The crowd in my area were enjoying themselves. You have to feel sorry for the fielder who is on the boundary and Aaron Thomason drew that privilege. “You can’t bat, you don’t bowl and your fielding is shite. Why are you in the team Thommo?” came the shout from the chaps at the front of the stand. Thomason cocked an ear, encouraging them to shout louder – all in good nature. The blast of ‘Sweet Caroline’ over the speakers got everyone up and singing, briefly forgetting the action on the pitch.
Sitting square to the wicket meant I was in a prime six hitting zone. Sure enough, a sweep from van Buuren saw the ball head towards me. The guy in front stood up, hands poised for the catch and then at the last minute, he ducked. I took evasive action and the ball missed me by inches. Rather be seen as a “ducker” than a “dropper”.
Gloucester had 30 on the board after 15 balls when they lost their first wicket, Sussex had lost two by then and were on just 13. But that was really the last time the home side felt they were on top. Phil Salt, the Sussex opener was outstanding, smashing an unbeaten 77 from 49 balls, and superbly supported by Garton with 46 from 25 balls, and skipper Chris Jordan with an unbeaten 24 as the Sharks won with nearly 3 overs to go.
The real home advantage for Gloucestershire comes from having a full-house (plus apartments) creating an intimidating atmosphere. On a night like this, with the opponents in good for with the bat and ball, that 12th man advantage is nullified. Sussex will fancy their chances in the South Group, with Surrey their biggest rivals, whilst Gloucs will hope to return to winning ways against Kent on Sunday.