Cricket: Nottinghamshire fear worst

Michael Austin reports from Trent Bridge Northamptonshire 601-9 dec Nottinghamshire 95-2
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The Independent Online
This attritional contest rings a bell for Nottinghamshire - of alarm. Faced with a monumental 452 to avoid following on, they slipped into the psychological chasm that afflicts many teams condemned to field in the heat for almost two days.

Losing Tim Robinson, their potential major-innings maker, to a slip catch and Graeme Archer, bowled off-stump by Curtly Ambrose when offering no stroke, simply played on the mind-game.

Still-vivid memories haunt them of Northamptonshire's 781 for 7 declared last summer when Nottinghamshire had already scored 527, a total of 61 more runs than any team had ever made in a match they went on to lose by an innings.

Both counties stand near the foot of the table but Nottinghamshire have looked the more ordinary. Only Alan Fordham and David Capel made single figures for Northamptonshire and the tail just prospered, with John Emburey scything his way through a demoralised attack for 67 not out, including two sixes, from 58 balls.

The tea interval was delayed, as per regulations, by half an hour because Northamptonshire's last-wicket pair were together, until the declaration. This was the ultimate indignity - so far, that is - for Nottinghamshire, whose body language of hands on hips and diminishing vocal encouragement illustrated just what a poor team they really are.

Blame the pitch, put it down to anything, but it must be questioned whom exactly Nottinghamshire expect to beat in the Championship this summer. Even Emburey and Ambrose added 77 in an unbroken last-wicket partnership, Tony Penberthy having made a worthy half-century, along with Paul Taylor, the nightwatchman. Andy Roberts also flourished.

Chris Tolley, an industrious left-arm seamer, returned 4 for 107, tantalisingly short of his first five-wicket return since 1993, the year he was capped by Worcestershire.

Since celebrating his first official game as county captain with a century against Transvaal, two months ago, Rob Bailey had endured lean Championship times, averaging little more than 20, despite his limited-overs success. He advanced an overnight century to 163, with 15 fours, in almost eight hours. If Northamptonshire are to win this match, it will be down to him and his side's ability to bat down the order, but a baked and wearing pitch needs to conspire with his spinners.