"I've got chills, they're multiplying...": a cold start at Trent Bridge
An old skipper of mine – largely disdainful of the rise of Political Correctness, it must be said – once proclaimed he’d “happily play the Blind School…no, the Women’s Blind School in pre-season friendlies" if we had to, since these games are solely about building confidence, getting the good vibes flowing. And so it was that Notts took on the students of Loughborough UCCE in what is traditionally a faintly cruel exercise in batsmen’s bread-dipping, getting a few miles in the bowlers’ legs, and trying to stay warm by putting air temperature at the top of the priorities when figuring out declarations.
I mentioned in the debut Left Line and Length last month that April 1 was the second earliest start to a cricket season at Trent Bridge on record. This numb-fingered, three-sweater opening has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the England and Wales Cricket Board kowtowing to cricketing superpower India’s demand that we wrap up our domestic season by early September so as to allow the Twenty20 Cup finalists to scoot off over there for the Champions League, and everything to do with their perspicacious awareness that, with Britain having become a sub-tropical climate thanks to global warming, it made sense to have the four-day matches bookend the calendar, thus allowing the three-hour, blink-and-you-miss-it T20 stuff a better chance to dodge the deluges during our new rainy season of June / July. Genius. It is only fair that we congratulate the foresight of the ECB, a body who have taken some heavy criticism recently for – in admittedly unheard-of behaviour for a powerful institution – failing to listen to their constituents and railroading through foundation-wobbling changes to our domestic structure. A not-so-guten Morgan Review.
Anyway, with the stoodoes having left town (at 4.45am, their wallet, keys and phone all lost), it was time to get down to proper business with what was, on paper, the easiest fixture of the 16-game County Championship campaign: odds-on relegation favourites Worcestershire at home.
However, avoding the temptation to say cricket is not played on paper, it's played on grass (and not doing a great job of avoiding it), Notts lost the toss and were hustled out after lunch for just 118, an undefeated 51 of which came from the blade of Farnsfield’s finest, Paul Franks. Such a paltry score would of course indicate that there was the proverbial ‘bit in it’ and Notts duly responded by skittling the Pears for an equally meagre 130, effectively setting up a one-innings shootout. It was time for the Notts batters “to come to the party,” as former England coach Duncan Fletcher (perhaps the man least likely ever to go to a party) used to say.
Anyway, the second innings saw a star turn from Rikki Wessels (one of the more spooneristically interesting cricketers, along with Kemar Roach and Richie Benaud) whose 113, a maiden Championship century for Notts, was the cornerstone of a 403 total to which Chris Read (with 68), Alex Hales, Neil Edwards and Michael Lumb (with 40-odds) also contributed. Set an unlikely 392 for victory, Worcester made a great fist of things, at one stage finding themselves on 235 for 2 and perhaps an hour or so of solid batting away from all but wrapping up the game, at which point Andre Adams – who else? – removed the elegant and gifted Moeen Ali for 94, decisively turning the game. Luke Fletcher then nipped out centurion Daryll Mitchell and between them this pair mopped up for a result that gains 19 points but, just as importantly, guards them from the psychological ruination that defeat would have caused. As much a good game not to lose, then, as a good one to win.
Next it was off to Chester-le-Street, Durham, a club that’s obviously trying to cram into the team as many people named after orally-ingested consumables as possible. They already have Phil Mustard and Lily Allen’s favourite whippy, whippety seamer, Graham Onions, while rumours are rife that overseas berths are soon to be filled by Michael Beer and Daren Ganga (pronounced hard ‘g’, soft ‘g’).
The game followed a similar pattern to the Worcestershire encounter: Notts got bowled out cheaply in the first innings (161) then responded strongly, this time snaffling a slender first-innings lead of 32, before building a match-winning total off the back of a century from one of the top-five. Here it was Lumb (131) who did the business, with Hales again chipping in (57). Notts then sifted breezily through the Durham batting, reducing them to 30 for 5 and 139 for 8 as the 2008 and 2009 champions wobbled in pursuit of an increasingly unlikely 368; however, stout lower-order resistance from our aforementioned foody, sausage and mash-seeking duo, along with number 11 Mitch Claydon, held up the 2010 champions’ victory charge. So, at the end of Day 3, Notts needed to take just one wicket to wrap up the victory.
Now, you don’t need to regularly set Sky+ for Geordie Shore to know that Saturday night on the Toon is a decent lash-up – a good place for a Stags party, you might say – although far be it from me to suggest that Notts' nocturnal activity had anything whatsoever to do with Durham’s already bottom-heavy scorecard eking out 50 more runs from the final pair. Nothing, zip, zilch. In fact, a curfew as observed by our teetotal heroes, rumour has it...
Of particular pleasure to coach Mick Newell would have been the first innings display of seamer Andy Carter, who brings a bit of X-Factor to the attack (in the form of extra pace and an action straight from the Heath Robinson school of medieval catapults, I mean, rather than warbling middle-of-the-road power ballads to further line the unctuous Simon Cowell’s slightly-too-high pockets). If the Lincoln-born paceman stays fit he should be a big asset. If not, then he’ll be back to the even more crowdless Minor Counties cricket and such fixtures as Lincolnshire versus Cumberland: a.k.a. the 'Sausage Derby'.
Notts’ next two fixtures were both ruined by inclement weather – frustratingly in one case, but not so against Somerset, the loss of around 40 per cent of the game’s overs allowing the Stags to escape with a draw after a performance that coach Mick Newell described as a “shambles”. Once again Notts batted first and once again they were skittled cheaply, only a truly phenomenal captain’s innings of 104 not out from Chris Read (out of just 149 runs scored while at the crease) saw them to 169, and all this with a depleted Somerset deprived of their best two quick bowlers in the shape of South Africans Vernon Philander and Alfonso Thomas.
The visitors replied with 445 for 2 declared, including a double century for Nick Compton, grandson of England legend Denis. In fact, the only batsman not to make three figures was Lewis Gregory, an emergency stand-in opener for undoubtedly the country’s best batsman outside the England team, Marcus Trescothick, who had damaged ankle ligaments when fielding. It could have been even messier. Without Andre Adams, the home attack was not so much toothless as antlerless. Notts replied with 169 for 4 as the game fizzled out amidst the gloom of both the weather and their coach’s verdict: “pretty hopeless”.
Read: leading from the front
Next up was a trip to New Road, Worcester, one of the more winnable games (in theory) and one of the country’s most picturesque grounds, albeit close to the River Severn and in its flood plain. Notts again had first use and finally managed to secure a first batting bonus point of the season with a total of 243, the runs being shared around with no-one making 50. Once again, Notts’ battery of seamers secured a first-innings lead, with five more wickets for the remorseless Adams and four for new boy Harry Gurney. The only realistic chance of snatching victory between the showers was through forcing a follow-on by rolling the Pears for under 93; when that was avoided (they were 66 for 6 at one stage, mind), a draw was inevitable. Notts had time to make 88 for 2 before the elements claimed not only the final day's play, but also, a few days later, the ground itself. Worcestershire have thus had to relocate a few games to the higher ground of, erm, Kidderminster, just as they did in 2007.
The fifth round of Championship games took the Outlaws up to Old Trafford to play the holders, Lancashire, winners for the first time in 77 years last summer. Both sides had their centrally-contracted stars available, which meant a rare county outing for three quarters of the regular England Test bowling attack: king of the swingers Jimmy Anderson for the red rose county; Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann for Notts.
And guess what? Notts batted first and, yes, got bowled out cheaply, well before reaching the Promised Land of the bonus points. This time, Kimberley’s Samit Patel led the way with 69, the rest plus extras managing a round 100. And guess what? The bowlers again secured a slender lead (of 23), the irrepressible Andre Adams grabbing career-best figures of seven for 32 and Swann nipping in for the other three, including X-Box buddy Anderson for a golden duck. A strong second innings card – including scores of over 40 for Lumb, Read, Edwards and James Taylor – saw Notts build an insurmountable lead of 327 and then the bowlers shared out the wickets, Adams finishing with the incredible match analysis of 10 for 50.
Lumb: settling in
Lat month, your correspondent made the hardly Nostradamus-like prediction that Andre Adams would be Notts’ star turn with the ball this season, and so it is proving. At the risk of blowing my own trumpet (as opposed to Daren Ganga, who just trumpets his blow), less than two years ago – in the period before WWF made me a protected species, before I started feeding on an exclusive diet of plankton and obsessively staying clear of beaches (which is true in a non-metaphorical sense) – I took a pretty comfortable 40-odd off Notts’ gun bowler in a club match, before being run out going for a preposterous third and breaking my specs. The point of all this is mainly to say to county coaches: I’m available, give me a go! In tabloidese, it’s my ‘Come and Get Me Plea’. OK, my fitness isn’t the best, and I’m no better than a 50/50 grabber, but you could do a lot worse. You could pick someone from Loughborough.
Anyway, Lanky the Giraffe skulked off with tail between long legs, while Mick Newell was left to issue a statement denying rumours linking him with the soon-to-be-vacant Bangladesh coaching job. As the one-day stuff now enters the calendar, Notts could reflect on a satisfactory first five weeks in the bread-and-butter of the Championship, a start that leaves them second in the table. With an attack better suited to seaming than spinning conditions, such a start was essential.
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