Gloucestershire, like many county cricket clubs, and indeed teams in other sports, use their headquarters to mark the contribution of famous former players.
The Hammond roof seating area, the Jessop tavern which was replaced by the Jessop stand (demolished
for redevelopment in 2012) and, in the club’s new pavilion, the Grace Room. It was from here that I had my first look at the re-shaped, and almost finished, Nevil Road ground.
Builders will leave the site in July, having come in at the end of the 2012 season. Previously – and perhaps I have been rather spoilt by the atmosphere at the Cheltenham Festival – I found Bristol a rather desolate venue.
Most of the time, there was no seating around half of the playing area, and the seats that were there weren’t exactly packed to the rafters. Facilities were basic. It wasn’t very welcoming.
Now, after 18 months of cranes on the skyline and extensive disruption, I found the transformation close to staggering. The three apartment blocks at the Ashley Down end have enclosed the ground and given it a shape, even when empty. Two new, low stands seating 2,000 between them are in front of the apartments, either side of the site screens.
The old, rather shallow seating and written press box have been swept away and replaced with a new stand for 3,600, with the new main scoreboard
re-sited behind it. Add in the seating in front of the new pavilion, which was completed last August, and that on the Hammond roof, and you have a capacity of over 6,500. Most of it was occupied for the opening T20 fixture against Somerset. It was a game Gloucestershire lost, but then that’s been a pattern in the first month of the season.
Injuries and some sticky form from the top order have been commonplace. Ian Saxelby’s seemingly never ending fitness issues reared up again at the Oval and I know I’ve said it before, but I wonder if his body is cut out for first class cricket. It’s a shame for a player with obvious ability.
In his absence James Fuller has aggressively bustled in, with left arm seamer Matt Taylor offering a different angle of attack. He looks, at this stage, to have the edge on David Payne in terms of selection.
Will Gidman remains the man you feel has most control, but all of them, along with spinner Tom Smith, need runs to bowl at, and until the win over Kent, it had been a tale of the odd good individual score but no real consistency across the order.
True, Will Tavare has two centuries already, and Hamish Marshall and Alex Gidman one each but the starts have been flaky. In nine Championship innings, the best opening stand is 76, but the next best is only 31. Batting problems are not confined to Gloucestershire, however. You only have to look at the Division 2 bonus points in the Championship to see how much the ball has dominated the bat.
Finally, at the sixth time of asking, Gloucestershire recorded their first victory of the season, trouncing Kent on Wednesday lunchtime. Short of runs he may be, but Michael Klinger remains a
pro-active captain and one can only imagine the difference that result will make in the dressing room.
The only shadow over the win was wicket keeper Gareth Roderick breaking a finger that could keep him out for at least a month. Having made a half century in each innings in his first Championship match of the summer his loss needs no more elaboration.
All the teams start the season making optimistic noises. Gloucestershire’s framework has been known for some time, relying as they do on finding
young players who can step into the first class game.
Craig Miles burst onto the scene last summer but a back injury has kept him out so far this year.
At the same time Tavare was in the second eleven, and Matt Taylor ended last season with only three Championship games under his belt. It would be unrealistic to expect this group to unerringly consistent, especially as over the next fortnight they have four successive away matches in different competitions.
Before that, Middlesex arrive at the County Ground off the back of a Championship win in Division 1 and a T20 experiment on the opening weekend, where they played two matches at Lord’s back to back.
Both ended in defeat, which gives Gloucestershire – who started with a two point penalty – the chance to finish this phase of the summer at their extensively refurbished home with their T20 points tally no longer overdrawn.
Photograph : copyright http://www.ian.randall.co.uk