At the end of their first innings, there were plenty of reasons to believe Nottinghamshire were going to record their second win of the season. For seven and a half sessions, they had done plenty right. They had wrung almost as many out of their last five wickets (233) as the first five (241) to chisel out a first-innings lead of 198. Remarkably, each of the top nine made at least 30, with none getting further than Samit Patel’s 67.
A spurt manned by Stuart Broad had seen them pick up a fifth batting point and, for their bowlers, there had been signs of variable bounce, especially from the Pavilion End. Lancashire had looked ever so ragged all morning, their tactics leaden and defensive, their bowling – seemingly with an allergy to Matt Parkinson’s leg spin – pedestrian, with the exception of Neil Wagner, who plugged away and deserved his two late wickets.
Yet by the close of play that lead had been eroded to just 70, and still Lancashire had all 10 wickets in hand. Steven Mullaney, the Nottinghamshire captain, had tried everything: each of his three best bowlers – Broad, Imran Tahir and Harry Gurney – at both ends, the seldom-seen off-breaks of Jake Libby, and a series of increasingly outlandish fields, even two short covers and three short midwickets, all at once.
In wickets’ stead stood Haseeb Hameed and Tom Smith. Sure, with the sky blue and the pitch slowing, these were the match’s best batting conditions, but this, Lancashire’s first century opening stand of the season, was a triumph of economy, accumulation and aversion to risk. At no stage was the bowling poor, but – across 49 overs – there was barely an appeal, and even fewer plays and misses. The turn Tahir could extract was slow and manageable.
Hameed – as Broad, with his mouth regularly agape in disbelief, will attest – has an unusual ability to judge a leave (still an opener’s most important stroke) and looks a player of rare class and temperament. At 19, he appeared utterly unfazed by the task of saving a vital match. Early on he took three consecutive boundaries off Gurney, two of them cover driven, while he has a springy back-foot drive and plays neatly off his pads. Smith was mature and methodical, growing into the innings and carting a pair of fours – one cover driven, the other swept – to mark Tahir’s change of ends late on.
This level of organisation was in contrast to Lancashire’s efforts in the first half of the day. Riki Wessels had dispatched his first ball of the morning through midwicket and looked in fluent form, taking advantage of Steven Croft’s defensive fields to rotate the strike. Patel was watchful, but found time for a delicious straight drive and various rolls of those supple wrists, as the pair shared the first century partnership of the match before falling just as they looked set, like the top five had on Monday. Smith took both wickets, as Patel edged behind while Wessels guided to the slip Liam Livingstone, who is set to be called up by England Lions after the selectors met on Monday.
Broad and Brett Hutton harrumphed their way to 46 each from the same number of deliveries (60), with Broad clubbing the curiously under-bowled Parkinson handsomely down the ground before being bowled through the gate.
The rabbits Tahir, with a cover drive, and Gurney, with a lofted straight drive, briefly joined the fun, before Wagner’s sheer will seemed to bowl Hutton to end the innings.
With cloudier skies forecast, Nottinghamshire’s hopes of a win are not entirely gone. The immediate task remains familiar, though: shifting the immovable Hameed and Smith.