Steady start for Yorkshire on opening day of County Championship at Trent Bridge
LIKE AN old lawnmower that had been put away for the winter and left in the corner of a garage or shed, there was an air of rustiness about the play on the opening day of the Championship season.
No matter how much practice or preparation is undertaken there is nothing quite like the real thing, of course, and it takes time to get back into the metaphorical swing of cutting the grass before it feels routine.
After exercising the right of the visitors to bowl, a rule that seems no less absurd than it did when it was introduced for the 2016 season, Yorkshire would have hoped for better than to concede a score of 324-5, to which Joe Clarke contributed an unbeaten 109.
Even that might have been better from a Notts’ point of view, with four of those wickets the result of batsman-error as opposed to particular incision on the bowlers’ part.
A sluggish pitch did not help - either for batsmen seeking to time the ball or for bowlers striving for extra pace.
All things considered, it represented a low-key start to Yorkshire’s campaign, a bit like rocking up at the seaside for a family holiday after much anticipation only to find that the donkey rides were not yet running and the crazy golf had still to reopen.
Before a crowd of 2,387, who watched in alternately watery sunshine and heavy cloud on a chilly day near the River Trent, the cricket was steady rather than spectacular.
Not that that should surprise anyone given a no-toss option which positively encourages home teams to suck the life from pitches for fear of finding themselves ejected before lunch on the opening day.
On a morning blessed with the day’s best sunshine, it quickly became apparent that there was no chance of that happening on this occasion.
After leaving out pace bowler Mat Pilans and leg-spinner Josh Poysden from the 13 that travelled, Yorkshire ran into a solid opening stand from former target Ben Duckett and Ben Slater in conditions that were hardly overbalanced towards the bowlers.
The pitch itself was strikingly near to the Bridgford Road - some six strips from the central Test pitch, as if it was a T20 game with a deliberately shortened boundary to facilitate six-hitting.
The outfield, too, was on the sluggish side, a likely consequence of first-class cricket at this time of year.
Duckett, the diminutive 24-year-old left-hander, had started the season in terrific style, scoring 216 and 82 against Cambridge at Fenner’s.
He looked in prime form here too, off-driving Duanne Olivier to the mid-off boundary before meting out the same punishment to his new-ball partner Ben Coad.
Coad was the most threatening of the pair, Olivier struggling to find his rhythm during an opening burst of four overs for 17 runs.
It was Steve Patterson who finally produced the breakthrough after 80 minutes’ play, Duckett pulling the Yorkshire captain to Matthew Waite at long leg.
At a time when England Test places are up for grabs at the top of the order, it was a giveaway from Duckett, who contributed 43 to an opening stand of 75 inside 21 overs.
He walked off visibly annoyed with himself having missed a chance to impress James Taylor, the watching England selector.
After lunching on 112-1 from 31 overs, Notts lost their second wicket with the score on 125, Waite trapping Chris Nash lbw with a ball that might have been hitting leg stump.
Slater and Clarke combined in a stand of 47 in 16 overs before Olivier claimed his first Championship wicket for the club, Slater falling in horrible fashion when he tried to hook from outside off stump a delivery that he feathered to wicketkeeper Jonny Tattersall.
Slater, who made a hundred in the corresponding game last year, hit 76 this time from 163 balls with 10 fours.
As with Duckett, his departure represented an opportunity missed. The manner of soft dismissals continued after tea as Yorkshire just about hung in there.
With the total standing at 226-3, Steven Mullaney tried to punch through the offside a back-of-a-length ball from Olivier that flew to Adam Lyth at second slip, the Notts captain falling for 31 to a sharp catch to the fielder’s left.
Patterson claimed his second wicket when Samit Patel cut to Harry Brook at point as the hosts slipped to 249-5.
The ball was perhaps a little too close to his body for the shot as Patel wristly flicked to the fielder, who took a fine diving catch.
Clarke, another on whom Yorkshire had designs before he joined Notts from Worcestershire, top-scored on his Championship debut for the club.
The highly-rated 22-year-old has Test ambitions of his own and enhanced them during a patient, comparatively unrusty innings that spanned 240 balls and contained 17 fours, an innings that made Taylor’s visit worthwhile.