Cricket: Johnson's sheen lifts gloom

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Northamptonshire 346 Nottinghamshire 380-5

TRENT BRIDGE has a new stand, proposals for another one to be built within a few years and a special place in the hearts of all England cricket lovers after last week's rare Test victory. Few who witnessed the epic duel between Allan Donald and Mike Atherton will ever forget this ground, which is rapidly becoming one of the foremost cricket stadiums in the world. What a shame Nottinghamshire play there.

Their cricket over the last couple of years has been ordinary at best and more often insipid and it was only last year that one journalist described them as "not worthy of first-class status". Soon after that comment they reached second in the Championship but mediocrity beckoned and they finished the season in 13th place.

The horrors of this season are thus truly exemplified by stating that such a position in the table would be viewed as dizzy heights.

Change is needed and inevitable and started before this match when Paul Johnson fell on his bat allowing Jason Gallian to assume the captaincy slightly sooner than planned.

Too soon in fact for Gallian to have reached the chapter titled "When to declare" or maybe he has been duped by the talk surrounding the coming football season and the importance of three points. Either way his decision to bat on to the close rather than declare on 300 killed any chance of proper cricket and allowed the ugly spectacle of joke bowling to be considered.

The parlous state of this game must not detract from a wonderful innings by Johnson, though. Freed from the shackles of responsibility he cut and pulled with relative abandon, bringing up his first century of the season off only 98 balls.

Still, the game, like the two clubs, was going nowhere but it did at least provide entertainment during the afternoon. Yet with both sides languishing at the bottom of the table it is incomprehensible that any attempts at a positive result have been abandoned.

Usman Afzaal supported Johnson capably in their 170-run partnership but he failed to accelerate during the day, finally reaching his century off 216 balls. No sooner had he finished acknowledging the rapturous applause of his team-mates than he accepted the offer of bad light with his side three ahead.

If he had not done all those present a service by putting them out of their misery it would have been farcical.

Poor Northamptonshire, they started the year full of hope with a new captain, Kevin Curran, and what on paper looked like a formidable pace attack. Unfortunately the signing of Devon Malcolm hasn't worked yet and yesterday he showed possibly why. With the ball swinging when pitched up he insisted on bowling bumpers, a curious move with the pitch lacking pace and bounce.

Early on Afzaal was slow to react but quicker in vigorously rubbing his forearm after an attempted hook shot. The ensuing appeal for caught behind had everything that a good appeal needs in the modern game - plenty of volume and unison from the slip cordon, and a celebratory jog down the pitch from Malcolm.

Alas, it was the highlight of the morning.