Gloucestershire 93 for 3 (Lace 31*) and 273 (Bracey 75) beat Middlesex 210 (White 76*, Payne 5-31) and 152 (Gubbins 52, Payne 6-56) by seven wickets
David Payne has been an under-sung asset in Gloucestershire’s ranks for more than a decade now, but he chose quite the stage, and the circumstances, in which to produce the finest performance of his career. With Sky’s commentators looking on for their impromptu feature match at Lord’s, Payne followed up his first-innings five-for with another haul of 6 for 56 – 11 for 87 all told – to cement his side’s table-topping form with a crushing seven-wicket win over Middlesex.
It was Gloucestershire’s fourth win in five, with a draw against Hampshire completing the set, and once again, their batters sealed the deal with ease in the fourth innings – the easiest chase of the lot this time, as Tom Lace, the ex-Middlesex man, completed their pursuit of 93 with a fluent unbeaten 31.
It would have been with some foreboding that Middlesex assessed the rain radar as the third day dawned to dank skies across London. It is one of the curses of playing their cricket at Lord’s – a venue that has had drainage like a sieve since the outfield was relaid almost two decades ago – that play was inevitable at some stage of the day, even as the rest of the country’s first-class cricketers were able to peep through their curtains and hit the snooze button on their alarms.
And so when play resumed after an early lunch at 1.10pm, the challenge for Middlesex was plain. Get a lead, any lead, before an innings that had already been crippled by three wickets late last night caved in completely. Such is the lack of confidence in a line-up that had already been bowled out for less than 150 in all four of its completed matches this season. In that sort of company, their eventual total of 152 was arguably a sign of progress.
What credit Middlesex deserved for their signs of life belonged mainly to Nick Gubbins, who gave himself some sighters in Payne’s opening over of the day, before taking it upon himself to climb into the remaining deficit with three fours in his second – a thick outside edge for four followed by two fuller swings of the bat, through point and long-off respectively, as he aped the proactive approach that Gloucestershire, through James Bracey and Ian Cockbain, had taken in tricky conditions on day two.
Gloucestershire, though, reasserted themselves immediately. Ryan Higgins extracted Ethan Bamber, the nightwatchman, before he could open his account, and with a new man now in his sights, Payne dealt Robbie White – Middlesex’s first-innings resistor – an early sucker punch. White’s fifth delivery was a pinpoint inswinger on an off-stump line that he could neither leave nor play, and ended up chopping onto his own stumps for 1.
John Simpson, however, arrived with the right mindset, as he and Gubbins carried Middlesex into credit before doubling down to give their bowlers something to defend in an assertive counterattack.
Gubbins climbed into Matt Taylor’s second over of the day with another trio of boundaries, including a blistering drive through extra cover, and as the pair brought up their fifty stand from exactly 50 balls, Gloucestershire’s captain Chris Dent was forced to change tack and bowl dry rather than chasing the magic balls in the helpful conditions.
Sure enough, the ploy worked, though with a touch of good fortune. Moments after bringing up an excellent fifty with a flick off the pads, Gubbins was sent on his way for 52 as Payne thudded another swinger into his front pad. It would have been hitting the stumps for sure, but as for the line, DRS would have been in business had Gubbins had recourse to a review. Sadly for him, Sky had only brought their skeleton resources to HQ.
At 109 for 6, with a brittle lead of 46, there was only one option left for Middlesex. Simpson sounded the charge with back-to-back fours off Higgins, and Martin Andersson responded by crunching Payne down the ground twice in three balls as he used his reach to cover the movement with a pair of big strides.
But when Simpson took the same approach in Payne’s next over, he merely plopped a return catch straight back to the bowler, and three balls later, James Harris had been served his marching orders too, via another perfect full-length inswinger that was far too good for his as-yet static feet. It was Payne’s fifth wicket of the innings and tenth of the match, and the simple but deadly method summed up the consistency of his menace throughout this contest.
All that remained was the mopping-up. Andersson attempted to take Payne down before he could get stuck into the tail but flashed a sharp chance to Kraigg Brathwaite at a solitary slip, who clung on well with a juggle. Thilan Wallalawita then landed some late lusty blows, including a pulled six into the building works that caused a replacement ball to be brought out, but Tim Murtagh couldn’t emulate his young team-mate as he snicked to slip while trying to dump Dan Worrall into the top tier of the new Edrich Stand.
Gloucestershire’s reply was as serene as it needed to be in awkward conditions. Dent made the early running before his off-stump was sent cartwheeling by the ever-eager Bamber, while Bracey will perhaps rue an impetuous lofted drive on 13 that plopped into the hands of mid-on – after his excellent 75 on day two, it rather ruined the impression of a man striving for an England berth.
Lace, however, didn’t miss a beat. His six boundaries, including a series of sparkling drives, snuffed out any prospect of jitters, as he quickly overhauled a labouring Brathwaite, who barely hit it off the square in a dour 21 from 61 balls. West Indies’ captain, however, seemed to have done enough for a red-inker until Harris slammed an inswinger into his knee-roll, but it mattered not. Gloucestershire are top of the league, and they are looking a very serious outfit right now.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket