Gloucestershire 227 and 253 for 6 (Bracey 112*) lead Yorkshire 376 (Brook 101, Dale 4-72) by 104 runs
Called into England’s squad as top-order cover for the series against New Zealand last June, he found himself keeping wicket and batting at No. 7 after Ben Foakes slipped in the dressing room at the Kia Oval and tore a hamstring. The malaise remained when he retreated back to county cricket, but his form had steadied by the end of the season.
All that now appears to be behind him. His orderly hundred against Yorkshire was his third first-class century in succession, following one for the Lions against Australia A in Brisbane shortly before Christmas (about the only good thing that happened to England on the entire Ashes misadventure) and 117 against Northants in the season’s opener at Wantage Road. Disciplined and correct, it was easy to see why England convinced themselves that he could offer the top-order stability they need. He still might: they are no nearer to finding it since.
Bracey has responded to his England adversity by seeking a balanced outlook – trying to control his intensity, concentrating on scoring heavily for Gloucestershire and allowing life to take its course. “England is still an ambition, but I’ve learned not to over-focus on it and let it dominate my thoughts – it’s a new perspective I’ve got,” he said. He said it seriously so might still be persuading himself.
His hundred has held up Yorkshire’s victory push, although it would take a much greater reversal of fortunes yet to turn the game in Gloucestershire’s favour. Trailing by 149 on first innings, they closed the third day on 253 for 6, a lead of 104, and would need to turn that into 250-plus to have a serious chance of victory on a pitch that has flattened out under constant sunshine.
Yorkshire, incidentally, can rest easy at suggestions that their new coach, Ottis Gibson, could be shortlisted for England’s white-ball role. Gibson, who said upon joining Yorkshire that he had tired of the international treadmill, has privately indicated that his ambitions remain at Yorkshire, where he has only been a matter of weeks. The relief in that in the Broad Acres will be substantial because he has a huge role to play in the county’s regeneration.
Bracey’s shakiest moment came on 70 when he hooked at Haris Rauf and took a nasty blow on the helmet. He batted on, but he must have feared concussion when he heard the strains of “Wonderwall”, sung in his honour by a stag party dressed in cricket whites and conducted by a groom-to-be dressed as an Easter chicken. Well, when you lose your England place, you must take your accolades wherever you can.
“I was trying to work out for a session who they were and then I realised they were people I knew, from the Frocester club,” he said. “My brother used to play there. It was good to have a bit of support with my head ringing. It was a bit of a bang but I passed my concussion test so I was happy to bat on. I think I’ve learned to be careful pulling 90mph fast bowlers.”
Gloucestershire have a glorious history when it comes to chickens. In their limited-overs heyday at the turn of the century, the ritual of the chicken dance took hold, in which Gloucestershire supporters celebrated every success by waving a salmonella-ridden chicken heavenwards while burring: “We’ve got the whole chicken in our hands.” This demonic tradition had a remarkable effect and stretched back to a match at Lord’s in 1997 when, the story had it, a supporter unpacked what he imagined was his pack-up only to discover he had taken a whole chicken out of the fridge by mistake. Clearly, dressing up as a chicken in Gloucestershire could be a perilous business. It is to be hoped that George, the prospective groom, has built a spot of exorcism into the service.
Following his blow, Bracey was treated to a bouncer next ball from Rauf, which he ducked (but did not chicken), and he thick-edged a boundary later in the over, but he soon recovered his poise. He was particularly assertive against Matthew Fisher (who appears to be transmuting into Matty Fisher now England have come calling), but for the most part his innings was impressive more for its intelligent accumulation than any moments of flamboyance.
With half the side out of 138, still 11 behind, Yorkshire must have fancied a three-day victory. Fisher made short shrift of Ben Charlesworth, bowled through the gate; the old fox, Steve Patterson, shaped one away from Marcus Harris from around the wicket for Harry Brook to hold the catch at first slip; and Rauf bowled Graeme van Buuren around his legs. The best ball of the lot came from Jordan Thompson, who bowled Tom Lace with one that left him off the pitch.
But Bracey wore them down. He was 101 by the time he offered a chance, a tough one to his right off Dom Bess which Adam Lyth could not hold at slip. Yorkshire looked a little footsore in the final hour of a warm day, enough for Patterson to take the new ball late on, but that ball will have plenty of hardness left on the fourth morning and they will be anxious to push home their advantage.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps