Essex 298 and 199 for 1 (Cook 87*, Westley 70*) lead Nottinghamshire 442 (Montgomery 177, Slater 57, Clarke 57, Critchley 3-33, S Cook 3-58) by 55 runs
Nottingham on the third Saturday morning in May. Green buses – 4, 6 and 9 – proud and prompt to the minute, rumble over the Trent Bridge, where the inn has been trading for hours. There is a quiet busyness about the streets, an air of incipience.
So it seemed on this leisured day when the East Midlands began to take leave of spring. Canyoned clouds drifted against a silver-blue sky and the shorts worn on the middle terrace at the Radcliffe Road End suggested more than a mulish determination to spite the climate.
Red shirts flecked the white-painted stands inside the cricket ground. We were near the very last hurrah of the football season – and therefore five minutes away from the very first hurrah of the next. Some folk were taking in a few hours’ cricket before going to the City Ground, where mighty Arsenal were the visitors. In the streets around Colwick Road the fast food joints were setting up for a lively afternoon and evening. Fat and fat profits.
His batting today was certainly not without fault; he was put down twice in the slips before he’d reached 30, though neither chance was easy, and he sometimes seemed in a tangle when Liam Patterson-White bowled into the footholes. But he is 87 not out and if the job of saving the game has not yet been done with ease, the loss of Nick Browne, leg before to Lyndon James, is the only damage suffered.
And in a way, Cook’s achievement in the second innings was the more admirable because he was less fluent today than when he made 72 on Thursday. Only 12 of his first 37 runs came in boundaries and two of those cover-driven fours off Dane Paterson sandwiched a fiery chance to second slip where Calvin Harrison, both hands above his head, could not cling on. Otherwise, there were the jabs down that gave Cook singles to backward point and the little deflections to the on side that gave him a few more. His fifth four, a drive through cover-point, brought him to his 122nd first-class fifty, although only his third at Trent Bridge. The achievement drew applause but the stroke was played against the growing tumult on the Radcliffe Road, where another crowd grew and steamed and prepared for manic partisanship.
Steven Mullaney’s fields became funky and merely hopeful: two short-midwickets, one short-cover and no slip to Westley, who ended the day with a pleasant unbeaten 70 of his own. Stuart Broad and Ben Hutton, whom one might have thought two of their side’s biggest threats, bowled eight overs apiece. It will take a lot for either side to win this game tomorrow and there is no need for a contrived finish. There is though, the probability that Cook will make a century on this ground for the first time in his career. It will be another tick on a career record that is littered with them.
And maybe we had an inkling how things might go during a morning of brief appearances and carefree strokeplay, a curious counterpoint to all that Cook represents. None of the last six in Nottinghamshire’s order batted longer than Patterson-White, who stodged around for 51 minutes before a crabbed poke, neither Catholic nor Protestant, edged a catch to Simon Harmer at slip off Jamie Porter. By contrast, Jamie Harrison hit seven varied boundaries in his 36-ball 31 and everyone else showed willing, especially Stuart Broad, who wiped Harmer towards West Bridgford for a six and a four before Matt Critchley picked up the last of his three cheap wickets.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications