Illustration by Adam Poole
Cricket. A season of it. The cricket season. Time to pull the salopettes from the loft, daub yourself in vaseline, book yourself pre-emptive massages and chiropractic adjustments, then steel yourself for several long, chilly days in the field punctuated – you hope – by some runs or wickets. Or, if you happen to be a first-class county club, you get some flunky to sort out your sponsored this, your complimentary that, spend the winter ‘being professional’ by ‘watching what you eat’ (i.e. no pizza for breakfast and dinner; either/or), then get your pampered butt out to the Caribbean for a couple of weeks of
loose-as-a-goose bump ‘n’ grind in beachside bars while necking cocktails warm-weather practice.
So it was that, while Britain shivered beneath some April Fool’s snow, Notts spent the latter part of March feeling generally irie in Antigua, hoping the break would help them Hit the Ground Running™ come their Championship opener against a decent Middlesex side that over the winter had pipped Notts to the signature of their main target, the Welsh seam-bowling prospect James Harris. Still, Notts were able to freshen up their fast-bowling stocks by securing the services of Bradford-born Ajmal Shahzad, a highly talented bowler who has played for England in all three forms of the game but rather lost his way over the last two seasons. A solid season from him ought to give the attack more bite.
The other major change is with the overseas player, incumbent Aussie opener Ed Cowan being given the chance – as Nigel Farage would probably aeroplane-banner over London – to get nicely used to the venue for the first Ashes Test while having an up-close look at half the likely England attack in the form of Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann
. Of course, it also gives them a chance to work out his weak areas (and if they can’t, I have a sixteen bullet-point document they can read).
Cowan got his stint as an Outlaw off to a steady start, top-scoring with 61 as Notts posted a disappointing 278 all out. Middlesex could only eke out a 75-run lead, yet bagged no fewer than seven Notts second-innings wickets before being made to bat again, as Neil Dexter’s phantom seamers returned career-best figures of 5 for 27. Andre Adams (50 off 38 balls) played a typically lusty innings, supported by Luke Fletcher (47) but the fact that Middlesex knocked off the runs without loss showed just how ordinary a batting performance it had been from Notts’ much-vaunted top-order, the first five of whom have all played international cricket in the last 12 months.
Miss Derbyshire, 2012
Having sat out the second round of games and instead gorged themselves on Durham University’s attack in a colossal 541-run victory (sic), Notts’ opening away Champo encounter of the season was a local derby against, um, Derby. The shire, that is. Derbyshire. As in Eileen, Corrie’s Emily Bishop. Some of the bawdier spactators at Trent Bridge know their friends from the west end of the A52 (and other areas of said county, no doubt, like along the A61 and A515, the A619, A6, A623...) as ‘sheep shaggers’ – presumably on account of the relatively high number of ovine creatures to be found in the Peak District, as well as the club badge of Derby County FC – while they like to call Notts the ‘tree shaggers’. Graham Ferrett’s Encyclopaedia of Sexual Perversions contends that sheep are a slightly stranger choice of sex-object than trees, which tend to be confined to such plangent amorous encounters as hugging, so Notts win on that score (not that it has ever been definitively proven that everyone in Derbyshire shags sheep, although it is statistically probable that some do, of course) which they no doubt had written on the dressing-room wall as a motivational slogan: "trees OK, sheep not so much".
Derbyshire have been Nether Langwith-ing in the second tier for over ten years now, so the prospect of a derby game was certainly something that had the East Midlands abuzz. Unfortunately, not many bosses in the early twenty-first century are prepared to allow their workforce have four idle days off to watch some parochial one-upmanship, so the crowd at was once more predominantly drawn from the grey pound. And the game they saw was bossed by Notts from the moment they had Derbyshire 75 for 6 shortly after lunch on the first day. Creditably, the Peakites mustered 256 all out, with four wickets for Stuart Broad on a rare appearance for the county, but that total was given perspective by Nottinghamshire’s 443 all out, built on 40s from Samit Patel, Michael Lumb and Broad, 50-odds for openers Cowan and Alex Hales
, and 112 for James Taylor
. Notts finished the job easily enough, Broad and Harry Gurney sharing seven wickets to the eight they took first time out, before Notts knocked off the 43 runs post haste.
A word on Taylor. Up until last winter the career graph of jockey’s son (no, seriously) was an impressive upward sweep all the way to the England Test side – after having followed the path of so many before him, ditching an unfashionable, peripheral East Midlands county (Leicestershire, in his case) for the bright lights of Nottingham – but things have been tough since then. He was dropped after two unconvincing Tests for England, albeit having played the straight man to Pietersen’s pre-ostracism prima donna-ish masterpiece at Headingley. After that he didn’t go on either of the winter tours, was stripped of the England Lions captaincy, and in April failed to make the 30-man England Performance Squad. He needed to put his hand up – perhaps having stood on a box first – and get himself back in the mix. This century set him on his way.
…And in the following Championship game, against Durham, his first innings 97 along with 80 for Steve Mullaney gave something for Notts – now with Broad and Swann in the ranks – to bowl at. Unfortunately, they encountered a familiar-looking wall by the name of Will Smith (not the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, obviously), once of this parish, whose kitchen sink drama of a 153 furnished the visitors with a first-innings lead of 151, enough to snaffle five prime scalps before the home team could chalk it off. Lumb’s 123 and a relatively responsible 68 almost, almost nudged Notts to safety but as the final wicket fell to a contentious lbw decision against the England twirler, Durham were presented with a tantalising, T20-ish chase of 183 in 23 overs – only, without the restrictions on number of overs that any one bowler could bowl, or field placings. But this is modern crickeeet, buff and turbocharged and inventive, and so it was that the visitors knocked off the runs fairly comfortably, with no bowler spared the onslaught.
It was a desperately disappointing result. With their best seamer of recent years crocked, Broad and Swann about to head off with England, and only one win in early season conditions that usually favour them, Notts will need to regroup quickly to ensure they head into the Twenty20 seasonette in good fettle. The last two years have brought heartache there, too, as they narrowly lost home quarter-finals against Somerset and Hampshire, and the faithful of Trent Bridge are hankering after some silverware to reflect the potential in the squad (in batting, certainly).
Trent Bridge faithful
In fact, Nottinghamshire have not been to a Lord’s final since 1989, a longer wait than any other county, so there is a massive, massive carrot dangling in front of such Notts players as Samit Patel, whose 95, along with 108 for Taylor, saw them chalk up an 83-run win at Northampton. A couple of days later they took on Kent at the Bridge and the home batting power again proved decisive, Notts overhauling a revised Duckworth-Lewis target of 140 in 19 overs with 15 deliveries to spare, with another 50 not out for the in-form Taylor. And on Sunday Notts made it three from three in the YB40 with another D/L win, over Worcestershire, Alex Hales storming the Outlaws to victory with 72 from 41 balls as they no doubt celebrated with red, red wine.
So, all is rosy in the limited overs formats but Notts need to pick up a couple of Championship wins sharpish and demonstrate that their attack has the penetration required.