Nottinghamshire probably suspected that the combination of Devon Malcolm and their own well-grassed pitch would add up to a torrid time yesterday and they were not wrong.
Malcolm bowled as hostile a spell with the new ball as you will see from any current county bowler and unsurprisingly there were those who, as the saying goes, did not fancy it too much.
Malcolm not only swept away the first three batsmen, but also broke Paul Pollard's finger in the process. His opening partner Tim Robinson was already out of the fray having broken a bone in his hand while fielding and Ashley Metcalfe, who deputised, also needed the services of the painkilling spray after being hit on the glove.
Some high-class catching and the supporting work of Kevin Dean and Paul Aldred meant that Notts spent much of the day in the shadow of the follow- on, but at 128 for 8 Usman Afzaal and Paul Franks stepped in to save the day by batting with composure, courage and maturity beyond their teenage years.
It was probably no coincidence that both are left-handers, which did them no harm against Malcolm. They got sturdily in line, found themselves able to operate on the front foot against the other bowlers and richly deserved the odd moments of fortune in a partnership of 64 for the ninth wicket.
Of these, the most crucial came when Afzaal was dropped at slip by Dean Jones when he had made 29 and Notts were still 15 short of safety. By then there was much speculation as to whether Robinson would bat and when Afzaal succumbed to Malcolm, after extending a remarkable sequence of scores in successive innings, to 47, 26, 51, 39, 67 not out, 19, 70 not out, 77 not out and now 52, he appeared.
The point of this exercise was not immediately apparent unless it was to prove to some members of the Nottinghamshire side that Robinson could play Malcolm with his right hand behind his back, which he did, albeit for only four balls, before Franks was caught behind.
By then, Notts were less bowed than they might have feared. They knew the danger of taking on Derbyshire, even without Phil DeFreitas and the ailing Dominic Cork, in these conditions, though they would have been encouraged by the way they picked up the last five wickets for only 36 runs before lunch.
Mark Bowen, with his accurate, medium pace, emerged with career-best figures of 7 for 75, Wayne Noon's six catches equalled the county record... but the real drama was to follow.Reuse content