Felix Organ close to a century in blistering heat on shortened opening day of Hampshire’s LV= County Championship clash against Gloucestershire at Cheltenham

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Felix Organ defied blistering heat and all that Gloucestershire's bowlers could throw at him to compile a notable unbeaten half century and put LV=County Championship title contenders Hampshire in credit on the opening day of the 150th Cheltenham Festival.

To the utter relief of his bowlers, Hampshire captain James Vince won the toss and, unsurprisingly, elected to bat on a day when the mercury touched 38 degrees at the famous old college ground.

Organ ensured it was a gruelling spell in the field for bottom-of-the-table Gloucestershire, ushering the visitors to 203-2 at the close on a day when play was restricted to 72 overs by an ECB directive intended to protect players and spectators alike from a heatwave of unprecedented proportions.

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Applying himself diligently, Organ maintained concentration throughout to post 93 not out and dominate stands of 117 and 55 with Ian Holland and Nick Gubbins for the first and second wickets respectively.

Felix Organ ended a shortened first day at Cheltenham on 93 not out. Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty ImagesFelix Organ ended a shortened first day at Cheltenham on 93 not out. Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images
Felix Organ ended a shortened first day at Cheltenham on 93 not out. Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Organ said: ‘It was a pretty flat, lifeless pitch and they bowled straight most of the day, so to finish on 203-2 is a good outcome.

‘It was a good toss to win, but that doesn't mean you are going to post a big total, and we knew we would have to graft hard and bat long.

‘The plan is to bat for as long as we can, hope the pitch breaks up after that and then win the game on the final day.

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‘It's always good batting with Ian Holland and our partnership gave the team a really good start. He's more used to the conditions, having batted in 40 degrees in Australia, but I found it extremely hot.

‘Although it felt weird playing one and a half hour sessions, it was understandable really, given the conditions.

‘I did think about going for the hundred just a couple of overs from the end, but then I realised that was the wrong thing to do. It will still be there for me tomorrow.’

Chasing a first win of the season in red-ball cricket, Gloucestershire stuck to their task manfully in energy-sapping conditions, Zak Chappell and Ollie Price claiming the only wickets to fall and Zafar Gohar sending down 17 overs as Hampshire were restricted to 2.88 runs an over.

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Further resistance will be required over the course of the next three days if Gloucestershire are to remain in the hunt on a pitch that is already offering assistance to spin.

Just 15 points behind Division One leaders Surrey and intent on closing the gap, Hampshire set their sights on laying solid first-innings foundations, compiling steadily and taking few risks in pursuit of a position of strength from which to launch on day two.

Accordingly, Holland and Organ demonstrated admirable patience and discipline to see off naggingly accurate new ball spells from Tom Price and Ryan Higgins.

Change bowlers Chappell and Josh Shaw posed rather more questions, passing the bat on a number of occasions, but with additional pace and bounce came more runs.

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Organ quickly discovered fluency, twice driving Chappell through the covers and then cutting the same bowler to the fence as Hampshire achieved lift-off.

The opening partnership reached 50 in 15 overs and the visitors reached lunch on 79 without loss, Organ raising a 71-ball half century with his ninth four shortly after the resumption.

Organ and Holland raised 100 in 35.4 overs, but the latter fell two short of his 50, playing down the wrong line and being pinned lbw by Chappell, having faced 131 deliveries.

Thereafter, Gloucestershire's bowlers turned the screw, restricting Hampshire to just three scoring shots in 7.3 overs up until tea. Effectively becalmed, Organ mustered a mere nine runs in a session that yielded a miserly 44 runs in 24 overs.

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Gubbins and Organ resumed normal service in the final session, combining sound placement with quick running to set the scoreboard moving again, only for persistent Gloucestershire to once again apply the brakes.

Having chiselled 35 from 63 balls, Gubbins played a tired drive and edged behind, where James Bracey held on after initially securing the ball between his thighs to give delighted off spinner Ollie Price his maiden first-class wicket.

Unperturbed, Organ continued to inch his way towards three figures, summoning a sumptuous off-drive at the expense of Higgins to bring up Hampshire's 200 shortly before the close.

He has already faced 208 balls and accrued 16 fours, and his diligence will surely be rewarded when play resumes in the morning.

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For his part, Gloucestershire captain Graeme van Buuren was careful to look after his bowlers, rotating the eight used on a regular basis to help conserve energy for when conditions return to something more akin to normal.

Even so, Gloucestershire's hard-pressed players were relieved to head back to the dressing room when time was finally called on this longest of short days.