Somerset continued their domination of neighbours and arch rivals Gloucestershire in one-day cricket, carving out an 18-run victory in the opening NatWest Blast T20 fixture of the season at the Bristol County Ground.
Put into bat, the visitors posted 156-8, courtesy of half centuries from Craig KIeswetter and Alvaro Petersen.
That proved a more than adequate total as Gloucestershire’s top-order batting failed miserably, the home side slipping to 138 all out inside 19 overs.
Somerset’s fifth consecutive triumph over their neighbours in limited overs cricket means it is already looking difficult for Glucestershire to qualify from a tough southern section.
Docked two points for preparing a sub-standard pitch at Cheltenham last season, Gloucestershire already trail the group leaders by four points.
Billed as a feast of big-hitting by the marketing men, this low-scoring contest was anything but as batsmen struggled to come to terms with a sluggish pitch.
Requiring the reassurance of a good start against opponents who defeated them on four occasions in limited overs matches last season, Gloucestershire never recovered from the wreckage of 79-6 in the 12th over.
Chris Dent (2) succumbed to a leg-side strangle, caught at the wicket off the bowling of overseas debutant Dirk Nannes, while Michael Klinger (17) drove hard and edged a catch to third man to become the first of two batsmen to fall to Lewis Gregory in the fourth over. Alex Gidman (4) also went cheaply, pulling straight to mid-on where the diving Peter Trego took a fine catch to put the visitors well and truly on top.
Ian Cockbain enjoyed outrageous good fortune as Somerset’s bowlers found their length. Dropped behind by Kieswetter off his first ball, he was again put down by James Hildreth at slip when on six. Gregory was the aggrieved party on both occasions. But there was no escape for the Liverpudlian when he next erred, pulling Trego straight to Max Waller at long leg for seven.
Gloucestershire found it impossible to build momentum as wickets continued to fall and Benny Howell became the next batsman to fail when meekly offering a return catch to leg spinner Waller for 12, at which point the home side needed a further 89 runs from 10 overs. Their task became even more difficult when Gareth Roderick was pinned lbw on the back foot by Waller in the 12th over.
Marshall and James Fuller represented Gloucestershire’s last realistic hope of retrieving a parlous situation and the seventh wicket pair at least threatened to make a game of it in a stand of 23 in three overs.
Succeeding where so many of his team-mates had failed, Marshall went to 50 with a four through mid-wicket at the expense of Waller. But the leg spinner exacted revenge later in the same over, trapping the New Zealander lbw for 54 to reduce Gloucestershire to 104-7.
Now heavily dependent on the hard-hitting Fuller, the home side were supping in the last-chance saloon. When the New Zealander chased a wide delivery from Nannes and was caught at the wicket for 21, Gloucestershire were still 26 runs short of their target and Somerset sensed victory.
Nannes returned to have Tom Smith caught at cover and then dismissed Graeme McCarter to wrap up the innings ahead of schedule in the 19th over.
Fuller had earlier bowled with real venom, both with the new ball and again at the death, to claim 4-32 as Somerset fell short of a truly imposing total.
Returning to his home city, Marcus Trescothick departed for a first ball duck, hoiking a short delivery to fine leg where Liam Norwell accepted a straightforward catch on the run.
And Fuller struck again in his next over to remove danger-man Trego, who was caught at the wicket via an inside edge with the score on 13.
Kieswetter and new batsman Petersen were charged with the task of rebuilding the innings and these two staged a restorative stand of 89 in 10 overs for the third wicket.
With most of their frontline bowlers on the treatment table, Gloucestershire elected to take the pace off the ball, deploying Benny Howell’s medium pace and Tom Smith’s slow left arm in a bid to restrict the flow of runs and build pressure.
But Petersen and Kieswetter were still able to find the gaps with sufficient regularity to raise 50 in just six overs to help the visitors assume the upper hand.
Both were prepared to take the aerial route when the opportunity presented itself and Kieswetter cleared the long-on boundary at the expense of Norwell, while Petersen carved Smith high over mid-wicket for another maximum.
Having given Keiswetter a head-start, Petersen overtook his partner and reached 50 in fine style with an imperious six off Graeme McCarter that cleared long-on and clattered the balcony of a top-storey apartment at the Ashley Down Road end.
Gloucestershire breathed a collective sigh of relief when the South African was finally out, caught by Marshall at mid-wicket off the bowling of McCarter for 51. He had faced 36 balls and helped himself to 2 sixes and 4 fours.
Following his departure, Somerset lost momentum and Fuller returned to claim two wickets in three balls as Gloucestershire regained the initiative.
Hildreth surrendered his wicket tamely, popping a catch up to deep cover for 14, while Nick Compton played late on a pull shot and was pouched by Marshall at mid-wicket for a golden duck as the visitors slipped to 126-5 in the 17th over.
If the visitors were relying on powerful-hitter Kieswetter to dig them out of trouble, they were disappointed. Although he top-scored with 55 from 48 balls, he was unable to find the boundary as often as he or his team-mates would have liked and paddled a sweep shot to long leg in the final over, having hit three fours and a six.
Late-innings impetus came from Gregory, who hoisted a short ball from Fuller over mid-wicket and into the Nevil Road car park on his way to a handy 20 from just 12 balls.
He too, was out attempting to sweep, caught by Gidman off the bowling of Norwell. When Alfonso Thomas was run out for one off the final ball, there was a feeling that Somerset might have come up short.