Essex seize initiative if not points, as Westley declaration spooks Notts

Nottinghamshire 442 (Montgomery 177, Slater 57, Clarke 57, Critchley 3-33) and 97 for 4 drew with Essex 298 (A Cook 72, Westley 68, Hutton 4-69, Paterson 3-48, Broad 3-53) and 362 for 8 dec (A Cook 99, Westley 95, Lawrence 52, Harrison 3-52, James 3-67)

One of the least discussed changes to the County Championship this season has been the reduction in points for the draw from eight to five. (Indeed, some sour souls have suggested that Lancashire – played five, drawn five so far – have yet to notice the alteration.) It seems a slight adjustment yet it has encouraged some attacking declarations from skippers who, in previous years, would have settled for the comfort blanket of shared honours. Then again, not every captain has a Simon Harmer or an Alastair Cook in his side.

The final day of this drawn game at Trent Bridge suggests such creative tactical thinking might become more common. When the players went in for tea, Essex were 362 for 8 and many home supporters’ chief concern was that their bowlers should take the last two wickets lickety-spit, thus giving themselves a chance of scoring say, 230 to win the game. Imagine, then, the surprise among the good folk of Bilborough and Bulwell when it was announced that Tom Westley had declared and that Nottinghamshire would need to score 219 in 39 over to achieve the victory that would take them second in the Division One table, level on points with Warwickshire and Hampshire.

If all this tested the faculties of spectators who were sound of mind and bowel, imagine the confusion it caused among those who had spent the previous evening watching association football some 500 yards away. For this had been the morning after the Forest fiesta on the Meadows and Clifton estates; the morning after their team stayed up and so did everyone else, giving it very large indeed to celebrate the fact with a no-holds-barred knees-up. Johnny Cash outlined the consequences of such indulgence pretty clearly in “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”

Well, I woke up Sunday mornin’
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt…

But just after tea, no one was sure where this match was going. In the fifth over of the innings, Haseeb Hameed was caught behind off a fine ball from Sam Cook, but Hameed’s show-reel contains few mad-dog run chases in any case. Ten minutes later, the same bowler crashed one back into Ben Slater’s off pole and the thought grew that Essex could actually bowl Nottinghamshire out. The introduction of the offspinner Harmer, who shambles up to the wicket like an insurance salesman offering a dodgy policy, did nothing to quell such notions. Joe Clarke hit the finest slow bowler in England for three classical boundaries but Harmer was getting bags of rip from the Radcliffe Road End and that proved too much for Matt Montgomery, who was leg before for 22 when deep in his crease.

With 17 overs left to be bowled, Nottinghamshire needed 156 runs, an asking rate of 9.1 runs per over, but now Westley had posted six close fielders for Harmer and it was clear which team was in the ten-bob seats. Lyndon James went back to the offspinner when he should have gone forward and had his off stump nudged. Notts were now 70 for 4 with 14 overs left, seven of them Harmer’s.

It turned out we had seen our last entertainment of the day. Clarke batted beautifully against type for an unbeaten 42 and Mullaney pulled his guts out as he normally does, his every defensive push breathing green-and-gold defiance. The draw was agreed with five overs left to be bowled but it was beguiling if useless to ponder what might have happened had either Clarke or Mullaney, their side’s last specialist batsmen, been dismissed 20 minutes earlier.

Beguiling, as well, to reflect that Essex’s brief victory tilt was created not simply by Westley’s enterprise and Harmer’s skill but by the patience of the Essex skipper during his 157-run stand with Alastair Cook. The pity of that was that neither batter made the century he deserved. Cook had been dismissed for 99 just before midday, playing one of those awkward close-to-the-body steers to third man that look dreadful until you think he’ll have long worked out the risk v reward ratio. Then it still looks dreadful but one concludes that if a chap’s made over 26,000 first-class runs, he might actually know his business. This morning, though, he tried it to a ball from James that jagged back and took the edge en route to Clarke, who took a tumbling catch.

Four overs later, the new ball gave Nottinghamshire their best chance of doing serious damage but they claimed only one wicket, that of Westley, who having toughed it out for over four hours and 95 runs was beaten by a good delivery from Stuart Broad that seamed away. By lunch the lead was 114 but there were only a dozen overs on the ball and time enough for Nottinghamshire to win if they could go bang-bang-bang – or any other Eurovision entry – quite early in the afternoon session.

They achieved quick breakthroughs but only an hour later, by which time Essex’s lead was becoming so large that Westley fancied a cheeky dart at 16 points rather than settling for five. Having put on 56 with Lawrence, Matt Critchley played on to James for 20 and six runless balls later Adam Rossington chipped a return catch to Calvin Harrison. Restlessly imaginative, Mullaney brought his own medium pace on from the Pavilion End and his seventh ball had Lawrence playing lazily across the line. Tom Lungley didn’t waste time over the decision and Essex were 319 for 6, 175 ahead with 49 overs left in the game.

Enter Shane Snater, a cricketer untroubled by regrets and generally unhampered by a defensive technique. In other words, a bloody dangerous one. The No. 8 dispatched his first two balls from Harrison over the deep square-leg boundary. The first of them took a diving Slater with it, the second would have done so only if Slater had come from Brobdingnag rather than Chesterfield. Harmer took his cue from Snater and 24 runs came in just over two overs. “Could Essex be thinking of declaring?” suggested someone. “Rubbish,” came the response. Then Snater was bowled for 18 having another colossal smear at Harrison. The players went in for tea and Westley declared.

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications

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