Fleming's flyers brought to earth

Trent Bridge's juicy surface brings reality check for early-season pacesetters
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Steve Birks, who is the groundsman at Trent Bridge, is an obliging sort. At the start of the season he was asked to prepare good batting wickets with no sideways movement or uneven bounce. The plan was for Nottinghamshire's batsmen to score heavily, to accumulate lots of batting points, and batter opponents into submission.

Kent 301 Nottinghamshire 169-9

Steve Birks, who is the groundsman at Trent Bridge, is an obliging sort. At the start of the season he was asked to prepare good batting wickets with no sideways movement or uneven bounce. The plan was for Nottinghamshire's batsmen to score heavily, to accumulate lots of batting points, and batter opponents into submission.

Everything had gone according to plan, until yesterday, when they were reintroduced to the hard world. In the first innings of their three county matches this season - two of them away from Trent Bridge - Nottinghamshire have scored 1,747 runs at 4.2 an over. Although they have played one game fewer than the others in the cluster at the top of the First Division, they have the most batting points. Five of their batsmen were in the top nine of the batting averages at the start of this Kent game.

At Trent Bridge the plan suddenly unravelled, and one reason was that Birks's wicket had more juice in it - lots of bounce, more up than down - than the Nottinghamshire batsmen could cope with. Wickets fell, the scoring rate fell and the good things that had happened so far this season came to a juddering halt.

Whether that is a brief pause or a full stop remains to be seen of course, though the team are so much better led this season after the recruitment of Stephen Fleming from New Zealand. The dressing room is more stable now that Kevin Pietersen and Bilal Shafayat have removed themselves, and levels of confidence are sufficiently high to suggest that this could be no more than a hiccup.

The pavements outside Trent Bridge were still damp when play began only 15 minutes late on a morning of low, grey cloud, and the prospect of more rain, which duly began to fall after 50 minutes. Jason Gallian and Darren Bicknell had cantered to 49 for 0 in 13 overs, though the fierce bounce from Simon Cook and Amjad Khan looked potentially disorienting.

When they resumed after 15 minutes, Gallian became the first victim of bounce, caught behind; Anurag Singh was the second, caught at first slip. If Fleming had not survived a very certain shout for lbw off the last ball before lunch, Nottinghamshire would have felt nervous, but with him at the crease at 81 for 2 all still seemed well with the world.

Fleming is the big, new, main man at Trent Bridge. He was anxious to captain an English county team and he chose Nottinghamshire over Surrey because he preferred the idea of being a bigger fish in a smaller pond, and he had found London life too frenetic. ("We didn't tell him that Nottingham was England's gun capital," says Mick Newell, Nottinghamshire's low-profile, shrewd and engaging coach.)

Fleming's experience tells him who needs a kick and who responds to an arm round the shoulder.

He might have liked an arm round his shoulder yesterday. There were five fours out of 24 in 29 minutes, but he might have been out for a duck and he spooned a catch just short of extra cover, before mistiming a hook that was caught at wide mid-on by David Fulton. The score was 118 for 3, and Nottinghamshire's brilliant start to the season was about to sour.

After a sharp throw from Fulton ran out Bicknell for 63, three Nottinghamshire wickets fell to Cook, all deceived by bounce, all caught behind the wicket - David Hussey by the keeper and Mark Ealham and Chris Read by Martin van Jaarsveld at slip. Suddenly, Nottinghamshire were 146 for 7. Saving the follow-on at 151 became a target, and even though the tailenders saved face, they were 132 behind Kent on first innings when bad light stopped play at 4.15. Then the rains came.

Searching for the reason, Newell might well observe that injuries and Paul Franks's loss of form have reduced the squad to the bare bones. His specialist squad of seamers are so drastically reduced that he was forced to ask Lancashire for the loan of 20-year-old Oliver Newby, who performed manfully taking 2 for 79 in 20 overs. (Newell compiled a list of potential candidates for county cricket's new loan facility at the start of the season - all necessarily from the other division. "I don't see people within our division helping us out," says Newell.)

But the fault did not lie with the bowlers. Blame the batsmen, who are injury free. To bowdlerise the Bard, the fault is in their stars not in themselves that they were underlings.

Comments