Nottinghamshire's perceived inability to cope with pressure and close out trophy-determining games surfaced again yesterday when Chris Read's side squandered a golden opportunity to seize total control of their County Championship-deciding match against Hampshire.
Nottinghamshire, in the guise of Samit Patel and Ashwell Prince, on 172 for 3, were galloping towards Hampshire's modest first-innings total of 203 when Patel drove loosely at James Tomlinson and was caught at mid-off. Patel had batted beautifully for his 70, striking the ball cleanly and with style, but his dismissal instigated a collapse which resulted in Nottinghamshire losing their final seven wickets for 39 runs.
By the close Hampshire had reached 102 for 1, a score that gives the visitors a 94-run lead and an excellent chance of winning. Nottinghamshire will not fancy the prospect of chasing a total in excess of 250 on this pitch, especially against a team containing a decent leg-spinner.
There was a stage yesterday when the worthiness of Hampshire's subterfuge tactics with Imran Tahir were being questioned. Patel and Prince slapped Tahir's first three overs for 26 runs, but the leggie returned strongly, taking 4 for 9 in 24 balls.
If Nottinghamshire lose, it will be the second time in a fortnight they have wilted in such style. In the Pro40 League, Nottinghamshire topped the table for most of the competition before losing four of their final five games. The last of these defeats came in dramatic style against Sussex, the eventual winners, when Murray Goodwin hit the final ball of the game for six.
The experience appears still to be haunting Nottinghamshire, and their failure to beat Hampshire would leave the Championship wide open. In a constantly changing landscape Durham are emerging as favourites. If Nottinghamshire draw or lose and Durham score 300 and win, it is they who would be crowned as champions for the first time.
Nottinghamshire will have to bat far better second time round if they are to avoid the tag of chokers. Charlie Shreck wasted little time in closing Hampshire's innings, dismissing Tomlinson in the second over of the day. Nottinghamshire's reply got off to the worst possible start when Bilal Shafayat was trapped lbw for nought by Dimitri Mascarenhas.
Two further lbw decisions, one of which – Mark Wagh's – pitched slightly outside leg stump reduced Nottinghamshire to 56 for 3, but then Patel and Prince counter-attacked. Patel is beginning to look quite a player. Last week at The Oval he blasted a superb 121-ball innings of 135 and he continued in a positive and attacking mode here.
Tomlinson, the top wicket-taker in the Championship, was driven and clipped for four by Patel; he smashed the first three balls Tahir released to the cover boundary too. Prince was rather more circumspect. The South African benefited from good fortune too. He was dropped twice, on 21 and 43, and caught at backward point off a Sean Ervine no ball on 25.
Patel's desire to dominate caused his downfall and exposed the middle order to Tahir. Graeme Swann was the first to be bamboozled edging a cut through to the keeper. Mark Ealham quickly followed, trapped plumb in front to a flipper. The next ball, a googly, accounted for Andre Adams, and it was a similar delivery that shattered Darren Pattinson's stumps.
Prince supplied Nottinghamshire's sole batting point when Chris Tremlett pushed a dropped catch to the boundary. The pre-match favourites now need the 14 gained by a victory to win the title. It will be far from easy.Reuse content