By Richard Latham

Ryan Higgins claimed five wickets as Gloucestershire moved into the Second Division promotion race with a thrilling six-wicket Specsavers County Championship win over Leicestershire at Cheltenham.

Hassan Azad’s battling last day hundred helped the visitors extend their second innings total from an overnight 78 for two to 299 all out, Higgins returning five for 71, but did not prove enough in an exciting finale.

The visitors collapsed from 255 for four at tea and Gloucestershire were left with eight overs to score the 48 needed for victory. They got home with three balls to spare, Gareth Roderick ending the game with an amazing six over point off Chris Wright.

The home side took 22 points to move within ten of third placed Northamptonshire with a game in hand, while Leicestershire had to be content with four.

Azad, who had hit 137 and 100 not out in the corresponding game at Grace Road this summer, began the day on 38, with occupation of the crease was his primary objective as his side chased the 174 more runs needed to make Gloucestershire bat again.

He offered just one chance in the morning session, on 69 when Jack Taylor could not grasp a sharp catch at short-leg off the bowling of left-arm spinner Tom Smith.

Colin Ackerman helped frustrate the home attack on a fourth day pitch offering little other than some variable bounce for the seamers, although there was some evidence of turn out of the rough.

He and Azad maintained their third-wicket partnership until lunch, which was taken at 168 for two, Azad having progressed to 82 after reaching a 134-ball fifty.

The second ball after lunch saw Ackerman edge Matt Taylor to wicketkeeper Roderick and depart for 41. Leicestershire still trailed by 83 and it looked an important breakthrough with a new ball not far away.

It was taken at 205 for three and Higgins made good use, sending Harry Dearden’s middle stump cartwheeling after he had made 19.

Azad remained unruffled, having combined excellent defensive technique with neat footwork against spinners Smith and Graeme van Buuren to reach his hundred off 256 balls.

By tea, he and Ben Mike had taken the total to 255 for four, a lead of three runs. But the first ball after the break raised Gloucestershire hopes again as Azad edged Ethan Bamber to Miles Hammond at slip to end six hours and 22 minutes of intense concentration.

Mike was caught behind off Taylor, whose hostile post-tea spell brought him one for six from seven overs. Then, after Harry Swindells and Callum Parkinson had added 33 to take Leicestershire to the brink of safety, both fell in quick succession.

Swindells was well caught by Benny Howell at first slip off Higgins and the following over saw Parkinson nick Chadd Sayers to Hammond at second slip. When Will Davis was lbw to Higgins for a duck, three wickets had fallen in 14 balls.

There were still more than 15 overs remaining and the Foxes led by only 41 at 293 for nine. Amid growing tension, Sayers ripped through Chris Wright’s defence to bowl him and end the innings with only six runs added.

Gloucestershire’s frantic second innings saw Chris Dent bowled by Wright, who also had Miles Hammond caught on the boundary, while Abbas had Jack Taylor caught in the deep before a Higgins straight six off Abbas off the last ball of the penultimate over left nine runs needed.

Benny Howell was run out seeking a second run off the first ball of the final over. But Roderick marched out to hit a two before his extraordinary match-winning shot.

Of his match winning six, Gloucestershire's Gareth Roderick said: "I backed away to the leg side to prevent the ball being directed there and then jumped across expecting a wide ball outside off stump. From there I just opened the face of the bat and swung as hard as I could.

"There are guys in the team who hit the ball a lot harder and further than I do, so I was just pleased to get us across the line. I had a similar experience against Somerset a couple of years ago when I hit a four off the second last ball to win the game in front of 13,000 people.

"But I don't think you can match a red-ball win in such circumstances after four days of tough cricket. Leicestershire made it really difficult for us today and it's a big win in the context of our season."

Leicestershire head coach Paul Nixon said: "The dressing room is sombre and the lads are hurting. I was confident we could save the game today and especially so at tea, but it wasn't to be.

"We didn't get enough runs in the first innings, with too many dismissals to balls we shouldn't get out to on a good pitch. Gloucestershire bowled with great discipline and patience to wear us down.

"Chris Dent is our nemesis and he got another very good hundred. From then on we toiled hard, but Gloucestershire did the basics under pressure better for longer periods."

Nixon had a special word for Callum Parkinson, who chose to play in the game despite the sudden death of his mother shortly before it. "Callum spoke to the rest of his family and decided his mum would want him to play. That is the spirit in the Parkinson household.

Rather than sitting around at home, he wanted to be with guys who care for him and support him.

"The umpires and Gloucestershire were brilliant in saying we could take Callum off at any stage and replace him if necessary."

Nixon confirmed that Mark Cosgrove would miss the start of Leicestershire's Vitality Blast campaign under the concussion regulations. The batsman had to withdraw from this game after being struck on the head while practising in the nets on the opening morning.