»Hammond stars in Festival T20 victory,
GLOUCESTERSHIRE celebrated a successful Cheltenham Festival both on and off the field with a closely-fought two-wicket victory over Middlesex in the Vitality Blast.
Victory in front of a full house of 5,000 at the College Ground not only secured Gloucestershire their first win of the Blast but also put the exclamation mark on one of the most financially successful Cheltenham fixtures ever.
Two sell-out Blast crowds and an average attendances of around 2,000 at two Specsavers County Championship fixtures, which both lasted the full four days, have ensured a healthy boost to the club’s finances.
The only day affected by bad weather was the Blast match against Glamorgan last week, when there was sufficient play for Gloucestershire to retain a full return from ticket sales.
“While attendances for the opening Championship game with Leicestershire were slightly below expectations, overall it has been a fantastic Festival,” chief executive Will Brown said.
“Hospitality sold really well this year and there was some brilliant cricket. The way the Leicestershire game finished was unbelievable drama.”
Cheltenham-born Miles Hammond delighted his home crowd with a brilliant array of shots as Gloucestershire saw off Middlesex.
The 23-year-old opener smashed 63, including nine fours and three sixes, to help see his side to a two-wicket win after the visitors had won the toss and elected to bat.
Hammond said: “I always enjoy batting at Cheltenham where I was brought up and I’m happy to have contributed to a great win for the team.
“It has been a fantastic Festival for us
and I truly believe we can go all the way in the Blast this season. Today was great fun and a lot easier than the grind of four-day cricket.
“This year I want to take more responsibility for our batting in T20. I don’t just go out there to swing from the start, although sometimes it may look like that.
“If the ball is in my area and I think I can clear the rope or a fielder I will go for it and be positive.”
Without AB de Villers, who was nursing a hand injury, Middlesex could post only 148 for nine on the fast-scoring College Ground, Stevie Eskinazi making 40 and John Simpson 42 not out. David Payne claimed three for 32, while Ryan Higgins and AJ Tye both returned two for 23.
In reply, Gloucestershire slipped to 84 for five, despite Hammond’s efforts, before Benny Howell (33) and Jack Taylor (24) made sure they reached 151 for eight and won with four balls to spare.
Middlesex began like a team who had won their first two group games, Eskinazi hitting three fours off the first four balls of the match, sent down by Payne, and Dawid Malan lofting Graeme van Buuren’s second ball from the other end over deep square for six.
But left-arm spinner van Buuren stemmed the early momentum with his next delivery, which saw Malan caught and bowled off a skyer.
Dan Lincoln came in at three in the absence of de Villiers for his Middlesex debut and he and Eskinazi, who faced only 26 balls, took the score to 73 before the latter was brilliantly stumped by James Bracey off a Howell leg-side wide.
Lincoln made sure the momentum was maintained, hitting Higgins for a straight six, before being caught at deep mid-wicket off the following delivery for a promising 30.
The same over saw Nick Gubbins taken at long-on for a single and at the halfway stage Middlesex were 81 for four.
The visitors were then squeezed by Howell, AJ Tye, Higgins and Tom Smith, losing George Scott cheaply as they added 26 in four overs.
Toby Roland-jones and Tom Helm perished to catches at extra cover off Payne, while Nathan Souter also succumbed to an attempted big hit and Mujeeb was bowled by Tye for a duck.
Middlesex had lost their early momentum, a straight six by Simpson off Howell in the 15th over a rare blow of defiance.
Gloucestershire’s innings began as their opponents’ had done, Hammond hitting two fours and a six in the opening two overs.
But the third saw Tom Helm strike a double blow, having Michael Klinger caught behind for 10 and Ian Cockbain taken at point two balls later to leave the hosts 25 for two.
Hammond continued to attack with a series of sweetly-timed shots that help take the hosts to 59 for two at the end of the power-play.
Soon the local boy was raising his bat to acknowledge warm applause for a 26-ball fifty.
Bracey and Higgins fell cheaply before Hammond’s superb knock was ended by a low catch from wicketkeeper Simpson off Roland-jones.
At 84 for five, Gloucestershire had to regroup. howell, dropped at short cover before he had scored, and Taylor added 45 priceless runs.
Both fell at the end, along with van Buuren, but had already ensured a hugely successful Festival for Gloucestershire ended in style, Smith hitting the winning runs.
James Bracey pulls off a superb leg-side stumping off a wide Benny Howell delivery to dismiss Stevie Eskinazi
Miles Hammond hits out against Middlesex
Tom Smith hits the winning runs past a despairing Nathan Sowter
AJ Tye dismisses George Scott
Tom Smith and AJ Tye celebrate the win