Gloucestershire 164 for 8 (Bracey 77*, Sanderson 4-38) vs Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire have been immediately relegated on each of the four previous occasions they’ve reached Division One and pundits have wasted no time in predicting they would struggle again. Whether new head coach John Sadler used such musings as motivation in his pre-match pep-talk, following a 50-minute delay to the start of play because of rain, the hosts wasted no time attempting to tear up the script.
Gareth Berg, now 41-years young, made the initial thrust, picking up former Gloucestershire skipper Chris Dent for a duck, Emilio Gay diving across in front of second slip to snaffle a sharp catch, one of two on the day for the young opener.
The first stoppage for rain soon followed, but once play resumed it wasn’t long before Sanderson, whose 23 previous wickets against Gloucestershire had come at a shade over 16, took centre stage. As usual there was no great pace, but his full length and nagging line in dreary light, which necessitated the switching on of the floodlights, gave no respite and opener Ben Charlesworth saw his off stump plucked out before rain drove the players off for an early lunch at 10 for 2.
Only another 22 balls were bowled after another delayed start before the rain returned once more and the stop-start nature of the cricket meant Sanderson was able to keep bowling every time play resumed and he trapped skipper Graeme van Buuren lbw just before a further squall sent the players scurrying for cover again.
All this time, Bracey was defying both Sanderson and the conditions, producing an innings which wasn’t fluent, but eye-catching nevertheless given England’s batting travails in the Ashes and their subsequent tour to the West Indies in the winter.
The wicketkeeper-batter endured two horror Tests last summer against New Zealand which yielded just eight runs, but his rehabilitation began with 113 for England Lions against Australia A, Scott Boland included, prior to the Ashes series.
He needed the odd slice of luck, missing one Sanderson leg-cutter and surviving a confident shout for lbw at the hands of the seamer, but he left the ball well, looked tidy and organised and showed tremendous concentration to re-start his knock no less than eight times around the interruptions.
Partners came and went, Miles Hammond perishing to a super slip catch from Gay, while Sanderson returned to end Ryan Higgins’s brief attempt at a counter-attack, before producing the ball of the day to have Tom Lace caught behind – a first catch in Northamptonshire colours for debutant on-loan wicketkeeper Lewis McManus.
Left with the tail, Bracey changed gear, three boundaries in quick succession taking him to his half-century and more followed as he skilfully farmed the strike to nurse Pakistan seamer Naseem Shah, on Gloucestershire debut, through to the close.