GLOUCESTERSHIRE were always fighting an uphill battle to qualify for the NatWest T20 Blast quarter-finals after being deducted two points for a poor pitch at the Cheltenham Festival last year and their hopes were finally ended at the same venue following a five-run defeat to Surrey.
In truth the final result sounds closer than it was as Gloucestershire left themselves with too much to do at the end and a final over in which Jack Taylor hit 18 took them to 152-7 in reply to Surrey’s 157-8 on a pitch that heavily assisted the spinners.
A capacity crowd turned out on a glorious day at the College Ground, many of which would’ve been excited to see Kevin Pietersen, and although he showed glimpses of his undoubted quality he has failed to justify claims for an international recall since being exiled by England and only made 17.
He was almost run out without even facing a ball after a mix-up with Tillakaratne Dilshan but, with no television replay available, was given the benefit of the doubt by the square leg umpire in an eventful start, which had seen Jason Roy smash a four and a six off the first three balls before being caught behind off David Payne for 11 off the last ball of the first over.
Pietersen and destructive Sri Lanka star Dilshan (36) put on a blistering 50-run stand in just 25 balls before Will Gidman enhanced his reputation by taking the two prized scalps, bowling both of them as he completed his four overs straight away to finish with 2-23.
That sparked a dramatic collapse from Surrey, who lost seven wickets for 56 runs in 11.4 overs with Jack Taylor (2-20), Benny Howell (2-22) and Chris Dent (1-11) all profiting as Gloucestershire took the pace off the ball to good effect.
However, the visitors finished strongly when the fast bowlers returned, Payne going for 21 in the penultimate over, with South African international Robin Peterson making an unbeaten on 23 and Jade Dernbach 25.
Gloucestershire made a poor start to their reply as Alex Gidman (0) and Chris Dent (2) both fell cheaply to Matthew Dunn but Michael Klinger and Ian Cockbain batted sensibly for a 51-run partnership.
Left-arm spinner Zafari Ansari (3-27) took two wickets in two balls in the 11th over, Cockbain (18) and Will Gidman (0) perishing, and had Klinger caught on the boundary in the next over for 45 to reduce them to 73-5.
A powerful display of hitting by Benny Howell, with three sixes coming off two overs, brought Gloucestershire back in contention before he was caught behind off the returning Dunn (3-37) for 29 off just 14 balls and when Adam Rouse (8) fell to the spin of Peterson, Hamish Marshall (27*) and Jack Taylor (19*) were left with too much to do.
Surrey's win means they have qualified for the last eight and Gloucestershire face another side to have secured their progress when South Group leaders Essex visit Cheltenham on Sunday.