illustration: Adam Poole
Last time I was here it seemed that Climate was playing some sort of gigantic practical joke on this green and pestilential land, deciding that it might be quite drole not to bestow an actual summer upon us but instead give us a long, grey drench. But then, toward the middle of July, Nottingham went pagan; a population stood in reverential awe at the appearance of a great fiery ball in the sky then cowered in hushed anxiety at its disappearance. Incredibly, said ball of fire – hastily dubbed “the sun” – reappeared the following day, bathing the land in its irradiating warmth. It wasn’t long before people were complaining about “the sun” and writing angry letters to Nottingham City Council that began “As a dutiful tax payer” (they were lying) and made the drearily predictable request that they keep its temperature between 19.6 and 21.4˚C, yeah?
Anyway, although said “sun” is conducive to the game known as cricket (helping to dry the ground so that the pitch can be compacted, things like that), it hasn’t exactly shone good fortune on Notts, whose three-pronged assault on the domestic trophies has taken a forking. Most fatally, they have sent the (sacred) cash cow of a possible Champions League T20 visit to India off to the abattoir, from where it’s come back as a bag of mangy vacuum-packed burgers, while Hampshire, Somerset, Sussex and Yorkshire are off scoffing rib-eye steak at Finals Day.
Hants diss m'Antlers under floodlight spotlight
You will recall (provided you’re not amnesiac) that, following a successful Twenty20 group phase, Notts were set to host Hampshire in the last eight. On a warm Wednesday evening, some 11,127 people flocked to Trent Bridge hoping to see Outlaws go one better than last year’s spirit-crushing home quarter-final elimination at the hands of Somerset.
Having won the toss and elected to bat, the home innings got off to a poor start with the loss of Alex Hales, maker of the highest ever England T20 score (99) here in June, and never really broke the shackles of some well drilled Hampshire bowling. It took Samit Patel’s 30-ball half-century from the number six position to elevate Notts to a par total of 178 for 7.
Hampshire’s reply followed a similar pattern, with regular wickets disrupting impetus, before an excellent little cameo from Liam Dawson revived the innings from 78 for 5 and put the Hawks’ South African import Neil McKenzie in a position to strike in the endgame. The final over – from which Hampshire needed 12 – was to be delivered by Andy Carter, a bowler who brings an air of vigilante farmer to proceedings, the sort of face you might see knocking at your window in the dead of night, brandishing a pitchfork and a flaming torch and asking whether you’d been enjoying sexual congress with his kin.
He started well: a dot ball then a scampered bye which left Man of the Match McKenzie collapsed in a heap. Another dot ball then might have sewn the game up for Outlaws. However, the South African, who finished unbeaten on 79 from 49 balls, scooped an impudent four over short fine leg then crashed another boundary through extra cover to leave just three required from the final two balls. Chaos ensued when the penultimate ball was drilled to Samit Patel at mid off who threw down the stumps, but McKenzie’s runner, James Vince, had already dashed through for a single, then scampered a second as Carter retrieved the ball. A direct hit at the keeper’s end would have seen McKenzie run out, with the incoming batsman asked to score a single from the final ball to tie (and win on powerplay count-back). As it was, with scores level, McKenzie stroked the final ball through the covers for four to seal the victory, leaving Notts to reflect on the balance of their side, top-heavy with batsmen and light on seam-bowling experience in the absence of Darren Pattinson (Carter, Harry Gurney and Jake Ball’s average age is just 23).
Ejection from the FLt20 didn’t mean the end of Notts’ coloured-clothing escapades. There was still the Clydesdale Bank Trophy (CB40), much-maligned, in some ways unloved, and the least remunerative of the three competitions, but which still offered the significant lure of a Lord’s final – for many professionals the pinnacle of their career and in which Notts have not appeared since 1989, the worst record in the country since all others have at least one Big Day Out in the tally chart. When you consider that Lancashire have been to 9 finals in this period and Warwickshire 10, it is an appalling record. Even Notts’ East Midlands ‘feeder clubs’ and rivals Northamptonshire (4), Leicestershire (3), and Derbyshire (2) have been to St John’s Wood.
Anyhoo, the post-T20 phase of this competition started well with victory over a Surrey side for which this has been a traumatic season off the field and little better on it. Just 3.1 overs into the game they were 8 for 5, a point from which there was little way back. Notts followed up with another televised day-night victory over Hampshire – how they would have traded their CB40 wins for passage to T20 Finals Day – James Taylor following his unbeaten 41 against Surrey with 74 here as Outlaws overhauled Hawks’ 230 with plenty to spare, Hales also chipping with 70. The final game in July saw a routine home victory over Scotland, the Sassenachs plundering 265 (Patel 82, Taylor 68, Adam Voges 64 not out) before skittling their Bravehearted visitors for 177, the spinners taking all the wickets. The two points here left Notts in a commanding position in Group B as the calendar flipped over to August: one point behind leaders Hampshire having played a game more.
James Taylor's Quartet: 1 Stag + 3 Lions
Unfortunately, the challenge would unravel with two games in the South-West. First, they lost by just two runs to Glamorgan on the cursèd Duckworth-Lewis Method. Outlaws had reached 77 for 4 from 18 overs in pursuit of 182 to win when there was an hour-long rain interruption, after which they were left needing 33 off the final three overs to overhaul the revised D/L target. 13 came from Jim Allenby’s first over and six from the first five balls of Graham Wagg’s next set before Patel was clutched at long on. That left the visitors requiring another 13 from Allenby’s final over, but Chris Read and Scott Elstone could only manage five from the first five balls before a consolation six from the skipper, giving Glamorgan victory.
This unexpected defeat preceded annihilation at Taunton at the hands of a Somerset side rediscovering its mojo after the return of Marcus Trescothick following ten weeks on the sidelines. Abdur Rehman started the rout by returning astonishing figures of 6 for 16, then ‘Banger’ Trescothick rode the slipstream of Craig Keiswetter’s blitzkrieg 44 and emerged to cuff an unbeaten 87 as Somerset romped home with more than 10 overs to spare. The defeat means Notts need not only several results to go their way but also the run-rate margins, and thus left them all but eliminated.
But afear ye not, Brave Will Scarlett, for we have Ye Championshippe to concentrate upon…
LV= COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP
The business end of the
summer mid-year period saw Notts looking to keep their County Championship title bid (prize money: £500k) on track, the Stags protecting a skimpy single-point lead over Warwickshire (who had a game in hand) going into the third lap of four.
First up was a trip to Uxbridge to play a Middlesex side featuring England skipper Andrew ‘Straussy’ Strauss, looking for form while the limited overs side were thrashing Australia and fending off accusations that he was to enter a civil partnership with Somerset’s South African pin-shitter [check spelling – Ed.] Richard Levi. His first innings went fairly well, gathering a neat 50 before Andre Adams snuck one through. Problem was his teammates could only muster another 48 between them as the prolific Adams bagged 6 for 32. Notts replied with 329 – including a century for Voges and 71 for Read – leaving them two days to secure the result. Day 3 saw Strauss lead a Middlesex rearguard, scoring an undefeated 127 out of 239 for 2, and then guess what happened? Correct: it rained. Still, Warwickshire also failed to win so no ground lost.
Then came a visit from Surrey, the Manchester United of county cricket, wont to swagger even with little reason. The visitors won the toss and inserted, and, between the opening day’s showers, Notts stuttered their way to 178 for 5. You’ll never guess what happened on Days 2 and 3… That’s right, pat yourselves on your backs: it slashed it down, completely ruining the game. Even so, Day 4 saw bonus points to gather and Read’s 98 helped Notts post 328 before Surrey ambled to 252 for 6, four of the wickets falling to the indefatigable Andre Adams, as the country’s leading wicket taker passed 50 for the season, a phenomenal effort with six games remaining.
Lumb vs Sussex: a tie
Next team to visit Trent Bridge were Good Old Sussex-by-the-Sea, who’d slipped stealthily into third place and within range. Despite winning the toss and batting, they could only manage 171 all out, in reply to which Notts piled on 520 for 4 declared with the new signings Lumb and Taylor continuing to impress – the former equalled Sussex’s score on his own while jockey’s son Taylor made a very timely maiden Championship 100 for the county, no doubt helping cross the T’s and dot the I’s on his selection [Yes, we realize there’s no ‘I’ in Taylor, or in ‘team’ – Ed.] for his Test debut at Leeds the following week. Nevertheless, under the rare blue skies, Sussex held out easily for the draw, finishing on 385 for 4 declared. This was another game in which Notts had made all the early running only to fail to land the killer blow. Aside from a frontline spinner of the requisite class, the most serious issue seems to be the lack of seam bowling quality able to pick up the slack left by an under-par (or simply fatigable) Andre Adams.
Anyway, for the next match, against Somerset on the usually spin-friendly Taunton surface, Notts would indeed have a frontline spinner as Graeme Swann, surprisingly omitted from the XI at Leeds, was available for a rare Championship game that Notts needed a result that maintained pressure on Championship leaders Warwickshire. With James Taylor also allowed a dash down the M5, Notts might have been hopeful of a win but, not for the first time, the rain ruined the game. Chris Read continued his fine form with a first innings top score of 52; Swann took 3 for 62 as Somerset were dismissed with a lead of 93; out of form Hales then got a much-needed 50 as the squib put itself out of its misery to the news of a come-from-behind Bears victory over local rivals Worcestershire.
And so it is with hopes fading fast that Notts start a game against Durham tomorrow. Despite remaining undefeated in the Championship, Mick Newell’s team now trail Warwickshire by 21 points (there’s a maximum of 24 available per game), a team they still have to play both home and away. Obviously, they cannot afford to cede any more ground if they are to ensure that the season’s finale is not an anticlimactic paean to lost opportunities.
So, if you’re keen to lend support, buy an inflatable stag and get yersen daahn there.
remaining Championship fixtures
Durham (H): Aug 15-18
Warwickshire (A): Aug 28-31
Surrey (A): Sept 4-7
Warwickshire (H): Sept 11-14