Somerset 165 for 2 (Conway 81*) beat Gloucestershire 161 for 7 (Howell 52, Gregory 5-24) by eight wickets
Regrettably, because he is having a tough time of late, the most glaring miss befell James Bracey, who palmed an edge from Conway, on 8, around the post during an eventful first over against Dan Worrall.
Conway, who first came to prominence for many English viewers with his double-century for New Zealand in this summer’s Test against England at Lord’s, now has three successive half-centuries in the Blast. This one was sorely needed considering the withdrawal of Tom Banton, whose first flash of form was enough for him to be called up to the England squad to cover for someone who is covering for someone, which the counties have long learned to shrug off as just another example of England’s hegemony, but which could occasionally be imposed with more sensitivity towards the bigger picture.
Somerset now join Gloucestershire in the top four and, although they are depleted, the force is with them, especially as Sussex are fast losing impetus after a series of washed-out matches destroyed their early-season momentum.
Conway committed himself to a high-risk start and, although Banton’s stand-in, George Bartlett fell for nought, chasing David Payne’s wide half-volley, Will Smeed again underlined his potential with 36 from 23 balls, never better highlighted than by his fast-handed whip off Benny Howell’s length ball over deep square for six.
But Tom Smith, who had come close to defeating Conway on the sweep, had Smeed lbw instead and Somerset were still 60 short with seven overs left as Lewis Goldsworthy struggled to get his innings above a run a ball for a considerable time. Conway’s ability to manoeuvre the ball into the gaps kept Somerset just ahead of the game, although one sneaked single to regain the strike might have resulted in Bracey running him out at the keeper’s end.
Ryan Higgins’ did not appear until the 18th over with 24 still needed and Goldsworthy was fortunate to under-edge his yorker for four. That moment of luck eased the chase and when Goldsworthy rounded off the win with successive boundaries against Higgins, he finished with 43 not out from 28 balls, misleading stats which suggested there had been nothing to worry about.
Gregory has not had the most productive Blast campaign – only seven wickets and an economy rate of 10.63 – but he chose the West Country derby to address that, ensuring that Gloucestershire’s innings never quite broke the shackles despite Howell’s out-of-character, cautious half-century and a best-of-season 44 up top from Miles Hammond.
Hammond was assisted by a collision in the opening over when he top-edged Craig Overton to fine leg where Jack Brooks and Conway, fulfilling the wicketkeeping role, tanked off in pursuit only to smash into each other in their efforts to take the catch.
Conway helped him along again on 35, a relatively easy stumping eschewed as Goldsworthy drew Hammond down the pitch. Somerset regard their best keeper, Steve Davies, as a Championship specialist these days, preferring to set loose their exciting array of youthful young batting talent, but such is their injury list he appears to have been disposed off too readily.
Gregory’s first victim was Chris Dent, who cut to short third in his second over. He returned in mid-innings after Hammond was beaten for pace by a full-length delivery from Marchant de Lange, who had come close to yorking him leg stump when he had made room to the previous delivery.
That 13th over proved decisive. Gloucestershire supporters have become used to the destructive qualities in their middle order of Glenn Phillips, but he fell to a wonderful delivery which left him slightly to strike his off stump. Two balls later, Bracey followed, a botched pull flying vertically for Conway to pouch the catch. Since his 0, 0 and 8, in his first two Tests, and the fierce attention that understandably followed to his batting and keeping alike, he has made 1 and 2 in the Blast and needs a slice of fortune.
That Gloucestershire reached a competitive score was due primarily to some rustic leg-side scythes from their skipper, Jack Taylor. Howell, who had much less than half the strike, found room for three sixes in his 41-ball 52, but they were rare moments of domination, and Gregory’s low full toss dismissed him at long-off before Smith’s first-baller completed his five-for.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps