Trent Bridge during the Derbyshire home game
For those inclined to believe in supernatural forces, the slightly sheepish reappearance of the sunshine just as the Twenty20 group stages were concluding could be interpreted as some sort of divine judgement on the wisdom, or otherwise, of scheduling the whole competition for a four-week bloc in the middle of summer – or what has recently become known as monsoon season. Not only does this leave cricket’s sacred cash cow susceptible to the sort of climatic decimation that has seen 20 of 90 games cancelled and several others truncated, it also places a strain on spectators’ finances in these times of austerity, notwithstanding the reduction in matches from 16 to 10. The apparent justification for this is that it creates more of a ‘tournament feel’, but as far as I’m aware the European Championships didn’t have a three-week break between round robin and knock-out stages.
For those of inclined to think the North/South divide is more than a tired gag seen on Comedy Channel re-runs, it may come as no surprise that the sole two counties who didn’t lose a game to the weather were those based in the capital, Middlesex and Surrey, while only Glamorgan had more no results than the Outlaws’ four.
The campaign started with a visit to reigning champions Leicestershire, which sounds a lot more daunting on paper than it was in reality since Notts had cunningly half-inched a couple of the Foxes’ better players in James Taylor and Harry Gurney. Leicester were so woeful, they didn’t even manage to bat out their allotted overs, and were skittled for a paltry 96 as Man of the Match Steve Mullaney trundled his way to 4 for 19. No home batsman was able to break the magical 13 barrier, precisely the number of overs it took Notts to knock the runs off, a cameo cameo of an all-boundary 16 not out from six balls from Taylor easing them over the line.
Up and running, next up was a big Friday night local derby with, um, Derbyshire. They may be cricket’s equivalent of the unloved four packets of ready salted always left over from the family-sized crisp bag; they may play on a roundabout and have wool on their helmets (allegedly), but it is still a big game. Predictably, however, it hosed it down, all of which meant bumper crowds in Nottingham’s hostelries for the bum-squeakily exciting 3-2 defeat of Sweden.
Two days later, Outlaws headed up the M1 to the world’s most northerly Test venue, Chester-le-Street. Durham could only scrape 114 for 5 from their 20 overs, Andy Carter taking the key wickets of Herschelle Gibbs and Ben Stokes, a total that Notts overhauled with 22 balls to spare thanks in the main to a sprightly opening stand between England T20 openers past and present: Man of the Match Michael Lumb (46 off 39 balls) and Alex Hales (30 from 30).
The following Friday, Notts were again back up north – well, it was the North Group – in Manchester. Not surprisingly, Old Trafford was the proverbial otter’s pocket. From Lancashire they headed over the Pennines to the white rose county and a Sunday afternoon game in the Democratic People’s Republic of Yorkshire at the resplendent Marine Parade ground in Scarborough, one of the most evocative venues in the country. Before the inevitable deluge arrived, Notts managed to accumulate 105 for 3 from 14 overs, James Taylor’s unbeaten 41 from 33 balls the cornerstone of a decent effort against the team that would eventually top the group, particularly given that his team were shorn of Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Alex Hales and Samit Patel, all on duty on home turf for England against West Indies.
In this SAD epidemic of a ‘summer’, it has been more than a tad fortunate for Trent Bridge that the five days international cricket played there have all been under azure skies with temperatures over 20˚ C. The T20 International was a great day for the Four
Horsemen of the Nottsocalypse local players, particularly Broad – skipper on his twenty-sixth birthday, wicket-taker with his first ball – and Hales, who stroked his way to a cultured 99, the highest individual score for England in this form of the game, although it was heartbreakingly anti-climactic for him to fall one shy of a Boy’s Own-style hundred. Still, should see him nailed on for September’s World Cup in Sri Lanka.
Hales certainly carried his form into Notts’ next game, at home against Durham, as he picked up his second Man of the Match award of the week in contributing a 51-ball 88 to Outlaws’ colossal 210 for 3. Michael Lumb’s savage powerplay assault of 36 from 20 balls gave Notts their early impetus, while Riki Wessels chipped in with a useful 53 from 38. Erstwhile England seamer Liam Plunkett was bludgeoned for 34 from 1.5 overs before he
ran up the white flag limped out of the attack. I’d like to think the Notts MC had the wit to contemplate playing Iron Maiden’s ‘Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter’ over the PA, yet the respect for hubris not to carry it through. In reply, only England hopeful Ben Stokes, with 56 from 32 balls, put up much of a fight. Three wins, three cancelled.
Notts’ next game was another TV fixture, this time against Lancashire at Fortress Trent Bridge. With ‘a bit of weather’ around, Adam Voges went against the grain and invited the visitors to have first use, and they duly batted excellently in testing conditions. Stephen Moore banged out 80 from 58 balls; opening partner Tom Smith smeared 56 in a rollicking first-wicket stand of 119; while a sprightly 31 not out from skipper Steven Croft nudged Lanky Giraffe’s team up to a respectable 178 for 4 (my grandad’s favourite finish at darts when I was a very, very young boy). Then it rained.
Then it stopped raining. And at this point Notts were set a revised target using the occasionally contentious Duckworth-Lewis calculation (as was explained last time, a mathematical algorithm based on ‘resources’: i.e. the more batsmen you have left to go in, the lower will be your D/L target). Anyway, this is not the place to debate the merits of the method, though there be method in’t; suffice to say that not even the Sherriff of Nottingham would have agreed that a revised target of 49 from 5 overs was just, given that the loss of wickets would not really hurt you in a 30-ball chase. With housewives’ favourite Richard Lumb again in fine form, Notts scampered to their target, getting the required run rate below a run-a-ball with 10 balls left. Wessels finished the job off, while Lanky was last seen getting a neck tattoo in town: Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. And the Duckworth-Lewis method in full.
All but qualified, Notts entertained Yorkshire next and came unstuck for the first time this season, chiefly due to the bowling of Aussie left-armer Mitchell Starc and dibbly-dobbly Richard Pyrah (the bowling of whom doesn’t lend itself to the obvious headline), whose combined figures of 8-0-41-2 were instrumental in restricting Notts to 148 for 6, skipper Adam Voges’s 70 the only contribution of note. They say that Twenty20 is very much a game of momentum and where Notts lost Wessels to the first ball of the match, the Yorkies struck three of the first four balls (bowled by non-regular, Graeme White) to the boundary, and thereafter built their reply around son of Wollongong Phil Jaques’ innings anchoring 58, as the total was passed with more than two overs to spare.
Going on the evidence of recent seasons, Notts’ total was clearly sub-par. Even so, a quick scan of the scorecard saw more raised eyebrows than a Carlo Ancelotti look-a-like competition, as it seemed there were a couple of curious tactical decisions made. Harry Gurney, regularly Notts’ most economical bowler, only bowled two of his four overs (at a cost of just 10), which could suggest inflexible thinking if he was being kept back for the death. Furthermore, White and Patel bowled 7.4 overs at a cost of 69 runs (9 per over), while the third of Notts’ right-hand-throwing left-arm spinners (a record?), Voges, was only taken for three from his solitary over. Your correspondent understands that these things go on hunches, and that it’s good not to overstay your welcome as a bowler, to know when you’ve done your job, but sometimes it’s your day (no, we have no science to support this) and there perhaps ought to have been a senior player pushing the skipper to keep himself on if he himself felt reluctant.
Anyway, all this Thursday night action meant the Outlaws still had work to do and couldn’t head out to Rock City and get jiggy with the stoods (just as well, as the sort of laws that get broken in there could have got them into hot water). Instead they were heading down the A52 for a grudge match with neighbours Derbyshire, Venison versus Mutton. But it rained. The whole group washed away in floods. And this was enough to guarantee Notts’ passage to the knockout stages for a third straight season. Hurrah.
The downpour didn’t render meaningless the final group game, at home to Leicestershire, as there was still a home quarter-final to secure, quite a big deal financially, but a definite advantage en route to finals day in Cardiff (August 25). Although the Foxes lifted the trophy last year, and are, historically speaking, the competition’s most successful club with three titles, they have been severely weakened this year (no Taylor and Gurney, as mentioned, but also no MacDonald or Nixon) and Left Line and Length would like to imagine Mick Newell having negotiated hardball over the fixtures in some hotel in, say, Chesterfield, like Fabio Capello making sure Andorra at home was the last game of the group. Perhaps he drove home cackling like a banshee, too.
Anyway, Notts batted first and once again it was Michael Lumb who gave the innings its thrust, smiting 62 from 26 balls, with 5 fours and 6 sixes, to bag himself a second MoM. The contribution of 45 off 30 balls of his opening partner, James Taylor, was made to look fairly pedestrian by comparison, yet Notts had raced to 113 inside 10 overs by the time of his dismissal. The final total of 196 for 3 was thus slightly disappointing, as Wessels and Voges struggled to match the furious early pace. Even so, it was 69 too many for the visitors. The management will have been very happy that Carter, dispatched for 19 off his solitary over in the Yorkshire loss, and White, from whom consecutive sixes were struck to win that game, were both in the wickets, taking 3 for 12 and 2 for 19 respectively from a full allocation of overs. And that, as they say, was that.
The foundation of Notts’ passage through the group was undoubtedly the batting: they had four players score over 100 runs at a strike rate above 140 (in old currency, that’s 8.4 per over), a feat achieved by only 19 players in the country, while Chris Read also scored his 50 runs at a healthy 142.85. Harry Gurney was the most economical bowler, conceding his runs at just 6.38 per over, while none of the rest went above 7.6 as the team looked to get as much pace as they could into the attack, saving the staff’s best seamer (and useful lower-order biffer), Andre Adams, for the red ball game.
What is on offer if Notts win the T20
The Outlaws look forward now to a home quarter-final against Hampshire Hawks, surprise victors in 2010 when they beat Notts’ nemesis, Somerset, in the final, in the process blooding several youngsters who are now lynchpins of their side, including Chris Wood, James Vince and Danny Briggs. The batting danger resides with an unheralded Aussie, Glenn Maxwell (strike rate 178), and a trio of left-handers – who suit the angles of Trent Bridge better than righties – in Jimmy Adams, ‘Toby’ Carberry, and Sean Ervine, with late-order explosives supplied by Dimi Mascarenhas. The bowling lacks real penetration but has plenty of options. Twenty20 is a difficult game to call – essentially pool to Championship’s snooker – but Notts would probably win this fixture seven or eight times out of ten. Get through this, and they're one game from the Chamions League money...
With the team back in the white kit this week and resuming their assault on a third County Championship of the Mick Newell era; with Graeme Swann signed for another two years of scarcely playing; and with Brett Hutton and Sam Wood off to the Under-19 World Cup in Australia, it has been a good month for Nottinghamshire. Could they finally break their Twenty20 duck this year? Well, Line and Length’s 20:20 foresight doesn’t usually fail…
The quarter-final against Hampshire is on Wednesday 25 July, 7.15 pm start. Ticket information can be found here: