Tuesday, 5 June 2012


Trent Bridge prepares to welcome West Indies

The last time this column appeared, Notts had just completed a comprehensive Championship victory over its current holders, Lancashire, at Old Trafford (not the Theatre of Dreams, although it was at the end of the 2010 season as they wrapped up the second County Championship title of Mick Newell’s tenure). After that, Notts temporarily tossed the muddy, grass-streaked white kit in the laundry for some flunky or other to scrub with Vanish, unpacked their coloured clothing and got the CB40 campaign under way with a trip to Edinburgh to play a side that were once considered a bit of a banana skin but who, while still semi-professional, have chalked up enough victories to earn the right to be taken with the utmost seriousness. I mean, as well as dabbing in here as a region, Scotland play as a nation in ICC events on the world stage. Not with a lot of success, but still…

Anyway, Scotland shoved Notts in and restricted the Outlaws to 217 from their allotted overs (there’s a wee clue in the competition name about the amount). Chris Read continued his fine early season form to top score with 59, England hopefuls James Taylor and Samit Patel chipping in with 30s. With rain in the air and cricket’s convoluted algorithm – the Duckworth-Lewis method – likely to be a factor, Scotland strolled to 108 for 0 from their 23 overs to win by 18 runs (and for those of you savvy enough to wonder how you can win by a sum of runs when chasing, well, I refer you to the adjective I used some moments ago. Had Scotland lost a couple of wickets in their final over, then their D/L target would have increased, since it is about ‘resources’ and…oh sod it, you look it up). It was a decent knock of 58 from the underrated Calum Macleod – indeed, as the possibly fictional Francis Begbie had once said in that very city: “f**kin’ obvious that c*** was gonna f*** some c***”. 


Back in the Championship, Notts welcomed newly-promoted Middlesex to Trent Bridge with the England boys on show for probably the final time this season, which meant Andrew Strauss and Steven Finn for the visitors and Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad for the Stags. Notts batted first and, after a rain-curtailed first day, notched 423 all out, with Michael Lumb’s 162 the mainstay of the innings, well supported by half-centuries from Alex Hales (79) and Steven Mullaney (60). They then nipped out three cheapish wickets, including Strauss, to leave Middlesex on 51 for 3 and vulnerable. However, a career-best 143 not out from Sean Bean lookalike Ollie Rayner (no relation to Suresh) warded off the prospect of the follow-on and Middlesex declared to give Notts a tricky little session before the close of Day 3, enough to account for Hales, Neil Edwards and Swann as Notts subsided to 22 for 3.

The final day began with a series of phone calls attempting to trace the aforementioned Hales, who, with no immediate prospect of involvement in the game, had failed to turn up for the fourth day until approaching lunchtime, an indiscretion that cost the England hopeful a week’s wages. Now, Left Line and Length is certainly not sitting on a moral high horse here, and well remembers the period in which County Cricket was essentially a six-month bender interrupted by a few late-night, posture-challenging car journeys and an endless programme of cricket matches manufactured to an exciting conclusion in the bar the previous evening – a period in which England were, frankly, rubbish (and the two mighty not be entirely unrelated). 

Hales: "the dog ate my alarm clock, Sir"

Anyway, as it was, Lumb (55) and Mullaney (73) completed fine games as Notts scored 174 for 7 before Read – eschewing any risk despite having two of the world’s top five Test bowlers in the ranks – called a halt, setting the visitors an unlikely victory target of 298 in 51 overs. Strauss and Robson had a 35-over net as the game petered out to a tame draw.

Just as the foul early season weather started to pick up, Notts had 13 days off before resuming an assault on the County Championship they had relinquished last season with a game on the south coast at Hove, one of the circuit’s more picturesque grounds. Sussex batted first and were indebted to Nash’s hundred to enable them to get up past 300 and the third batting point (of 5). In reply, Notts began with an opening stand of 171, Hales putting his misdemeanour behind him with 80. However, Riki Wessels was the star of the show with 199, falling heartbreakingly short of a maiden double-hundred as he edged Magoffin through to the ‘keeper. Notts managed a lead of 119 and then set about skittling Sussex again, which they did for 263, wildcard Andy Carter bundling out three of the top 5 to finish with 4 for 64 from 25 overs. An excellent victory, welcomed by returning Aussie batsman Adam Voges.

With Andre Adams rested, it was gratifying to see the side take 20 wickets again, Samit Patel’s left-arm spin responsible for seven of them. Notts overhauled the victory target of 145 for the loss of just 3 wickets, Patel unbeaten on 50. The victory left them top of the County Championship by a single point over Warwickshire, with one more game (Lancashire at home, beginning Wednesday June 6) before the Twenty20 competition kicks in again, definitely Notts’ Holy Grail and yet more of a likelihood than ever this year, I would wager (if I had any disposable income), as they appear to have the batting power to match any side.  

The Sussex game took place concurrently with the four days of unbroken sunshine under which the Trent Bridge Test match against West Indies basked, with sell-out crowds on Friday and Saturday enjoying some forward-thinking ticketing policies from Notts. Among these was free Day 5 entry for Day 4 tickets and, for the first time, a new flat price of £20 for under-21s, an extra grading introduced specifically to help prevent the sort of economically-imposed drop-off from among the nominal adults of the post-16 age group that can so undermine the overall health of the game. They have also pre-sold 14,000 of the 17,500 tickets for the Twenty20 International on Sunday June 24, a game that certainly carries more chance of a Caribbean victory than the Tests.

With things at the cash register looking healthy, on the field the Outlaws finished off the month [and nudged a few days into the next – Ed.] with a trio of CB40 games, hoping to remedy the defeat in Edinburgh

James Taylor eschews the 'posh side'

They started with a televised game against Hampshire at the Rose Bowl in Southampton that featured a breathtaking innings of 115 not out from just 77 balls (including 90 from the final 32 he faced) from new boy James Taylor. Given that this was the day that Kevin Pietersen somewhat contentiously announced his retirement from all international limited-overs cricket, it was certainly an opportune time for the wee England Lions skipper to bust out his full array of iron-wristed legside pick-ups, punches, and Dhoni-esque ‘helicopter’ shots, as his 7 fours and 7 sixes, um, propelled Notts to an almost seven-an-over total of 277. Hampshire flew to 88 for 0 from the first ten overs but three key wickets for Samit Patel (to add to his earlier 66) and a tight spell from Steve Mullaney dragged the game back. Coming down the home straight, however, Hampshire continued to swing hard and hover around the run-rate; with Dimi Mascarenhas at the crease, 40 from the final 3 overs looked possible (especially as he once hit the final five balls of an ODI innings for 6), but he lacked adequate support and Notts got over the line in a tight game.

Three days later, Notts found one of the few corners of the country in which it wasn’t bucketing down, yet went down to a heavy defeat at the hands of a Durham side still to hit peak form. Once again, Notts’ early-innings bowling appeared to let them down as the hosts plundered an opening stand of 183 in just 22.4 overs en route to a vast total of 310, including a brutal hundred from 66 balls by Phil ‘Colonel’ Mustard. Chris Rushworth then showed his new-ball counterparts how it should be done, taking a wicket in each of his first five overs, snaring the considerable scalps of Lumb, Hales, Wessels, Taylor and Patel as Notts subsided to 43 for 5 inside ten. Half-centuries from Voges (74) and Paul Franks (57) softened the net run-rate hit, but make no mistake, this was a todgering

Jake Ball, nudged for a cheeky 40 when he was wee

As Sir Alex Ferguson says, it’s all about how you react to defeats that counts, and Notts duly smashed the dressing rooms at Chester-le-Street to pieces in rage bounced back immediately with a comfortable home victory over recent nemesis Somerset, albeit with the visitors missing the likes of Marcus Trescothick, Keiron Pollard and Murali Kartik from their recent almost-glory years. Nevertheless, Notts did a comprehensive job and Mick Newell, fresh from ruling himself out of the coaching job with Bangladesh, will be especially pleased to have seen twenty-one-year-old Jacob Ball, a product of Welbeck CC, take three good wickets, including that of England’s limited-overs keeper-batsman Craig Kieswetter. Somerset’s woefully sub-par 205 was sauntered past thanks to half-centuries from the in-form Lumb and Wessels, a result that leaves Outlaws with two wins and two losses and sat in the middle of Group B after a third of their games. In this competition, the three group winners plus the best-placed runner-up qualify for the semi-finals, so with reigning champions Surrey unbeaten at the top of Group B, the Outlaws can ill afford any further slip-ups.

So, aside from the aforementioned Lancashire game, the rest of June brings with it the, erm, high summer, day-night razzmatazz of a slightly reduced Friends Life t20 competition, with Notts in the North Group and facing Lancashire, Durham, Yorkshire and local rivals Leicestershire and Derbyshire. Tickets can be obtained from the Notts CCC website.

Gwan the Stags!

Article originally published by LeftLion... 

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