Dan Housego at his best for Gloucestershire, but Warwickshire prove too strong
DAN Housego's career-best score ultimately counted for little as Gloucestershire Gladiators came up short against Warwickshire Bears in a one-sided Friends Life t20 match at Bristol.
Eager to make up for lost time after recovering from the shoulder injury that has disrupted his first season on the Nevil Road staff, the 23-year-old batsman compiled an unbeaten 59.
Unfortunately, it could still not save his side from a seven-wicket defeat in front of a distinctly underwhelmed County Ground audience.
Too many of Housego's team-mates surrendered their wickets cheaply and Gloucestershire's total of 122-7 was never likely to be enough, even on a difficult pitch.
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Sure enough, Varun Chopra top-scored with 56 not out and staged a match-winning partnership of 69 in 12 overs with Jim Troughton for the second wicket to set-up victory for the Bears with 11 balls to spare, ensuring a result that renders them favourites to qualify for the quarter-finals along with Midlands/Wales/West Group leaders Somerset.
Even if a high score was not anticipated on a worn track that had seen service in last week's contest against Northants, the Gladiators would have expected to make a better start than they did after winning the toss and electing to bat first.
Hopes of a high-octane power-play were undermined by the hesitancy that led to Benny Howell being run out by Paul Best's throw from point in pursuit of a single.
Worse followed when skipper Hamish Marshall aimed a drive at a ball of full-length from Chris Woakes and skied a catch to Best at point, having contributed just six.
Housego and Ian Cockbain threatened a recovery of sorts, raising 41 for the third wicket, only for their alliance to be broken when the latter attempted to cut off-spinner Jeetan Patel and lost his middle stump in ignominious fashion.
His dismissal set the tone for what followed. Alex Gidman, Jack Taylor, James Fuller and Ed Young all succumbed to poor shots as the Gladiators slipped from the relative prosperity of 57-2 in the 11th over to 89-6 in the 16th.
If the decision to relieve Gidman of the chores of captaincy was intended to set him free to play expansively, the ploy has yet to pay dividends and he surrendered his wicket tamely for eight on this occasion, hoisting Best straight to long-on.
Caught between a desire to play cautiously and hit their way out of trouble, Taylor and Fuller swished across the line horribly and were lbw and bowled respectively by Steffan Piolet and Best, who then weighed in with the wicket of Young, who departed in meek fashion, chipping to Darren Maddy at cover.
Housego showed what could be achieved on a slow turning pitch and continued his serene progress, raising his maiden t20 half-century with a six over midwicket off Patel.
The former Middlesex batsman then dominated an unbroken stand of 33 for the eighth wicket with Jon Batty to at least carry Gloucestershire to some semblance of respectability. Such was the nature of the pitch, not even Housego proved able to score at better than a run-a-ball, his innings comprising 62 deliveries and including a six and two fours, half of Gloucestershire's meagre tally of six boundaries.
Making only his second appearance in the competition, slow left-armer Best made the most of the conditions to return impressive figures of 3-19 from four overs.
Gloucestershire's hopes of defending an inadequate total were almost entirely invested in their triumvirate of spinners, Muttiah Muralitharan, Taylor and Young.
But having prepared a pitch for their spinners, the Gladiators handed seamers Ian Saxelby and Fuller the new ball and Warwickshire an opportunity to feast on some wayward bowling during an opening three overs that yielded 24 runs for the loss of Rikki Clarke. By the time Taylor was introduced at the pavilion end, the Bears had already built momentum and Chopra and Troughton found themselves in the enviable position of not having to take undue risks against the wily Muralitharan.
Troughton had contributed 30 from 34 balls when he offered a return catch to the great Sri Lankan, but Warwickshire needed only score at a run-a-ball thereafter.