James Whitaker, the man charged with restocking England’s depleted larder after the woes of the winter, made Trent Bridge his first stopping-off point on the marathon tour of the county circuit, primarily to check on James Anderson’s wellbeing after an Ashes winter in which his modest form was put down to a broken rib, with which he continued playing from the second Test onwards.
Anderson provided a satisfactory answer to that question, confirming a well-established liking for the Nottingham ground with figures of 5 for 54, but Whitaker, who is Geoff Miller’s successor as national selector, left with other things to ponder after Samit Patel tossed him a teaser that may broaden an already fairly wide debate over the composition of the new middle order.
In the absence of James Taylor, who also figures in that conversation, with a side strain, Patel batted extremely well in conditions testing enough to have Nottinghamshire 20 for 3 after Lancashire chose to put them in.
His record for England has not been outstanding, his attempts to establish himself with a consistent run of scores as frustrating as his battle with the scales, but there is no doubting his talent, as he demonstrated again in an innings that enjoyed some luck but deserved not to end with a soft catch down the leg side, off the glove, on 93.
Among his 12 boundaries were several sumptuous shots, especially through the offside off the back foot, with Tom Smith often the bowler on the receiving end. Smith, though, was unlucky not to have the batsman caught behind on 71, when Patel pushed at a ball outside off stump.
Alex Davies, the 19-year-old wicketkeeper standing in for Jos Buttler, who must wait for his Lancashire debut after being rested at England’s request, dived to his right, across the line of first slip, but failed to complete the job. It was one of five chances, or half-chances, that went down on the day, although none cost many runs.
Patel, who has not played for England in any format for more than a year, has found it hard to hide his displeasure at being overlooked since, but all may not be lost if he can maintain this form. His left-arm spin, of course, is another point in his favour.
Anderson, who has the remarkable record of seven five-wicket hauls in eight first-class matches at Trent Bridge over his career, including one in each of his last three appearances here, looked in sound order. On a pitch with some invitingly green streaks along its length, he let the ball do much of the work and it paid off pleasingly.
Patel guided Nottinghamshire away from their early perils in a fourth-wicket stand of 85 with Riki Wessels, who eventually played all around a full ball from Anderson, and then, giving Whitaker more food for thought, in an alliance with Alex Hales that added 95. Hales, who made only 251 runs all told in red-ball cricket last year, came in at No 6 in place of Taylor and made 61, his best in a first-class match since August 2012.