Peter Wynne-Thomas looks back on past meetings between Essex and Nottinghamshire at Chelmsford.

Expect the unexpected. That’s what Nottinghamshire trips to Chelmsford suggest. I’m spoilt for choice, but the curious bat incident of 1986 is as good a place to start as any.

Clive Rice was at the crease. He hit the ball into the outfield, ran one, then, in turning for a second, the bat slipped out of his hand. He ran two, then a third. The ball was thrown in to the bowler’s end, where John Lever had casually picked up Rice’s bat. As the ball bounced Lever stuck out the bat to stop it. Umpire John Holder was equal to the unusual incident - he walked over to the scorers’ box and awarded Rice five extra runs. That’s certainly never happened in a Notts game before or since, but it would be dangerous to claim that it is unique in first-class cricket.

The following summer, again against Essex at Chelmsford, Rice was the centre of, not exactly controversy, but some very serious press debate. It was late August and Notts were just ahead in the Championship race, when the teams for the match to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Lord’s Cricket Ground were announced. The idea of the teams was that one XI comprised the very best side currently playing in the Championship, regardless of any player’s nationality, against the Rest of the World.

The fact that no less than four Notts players were picked - Hadlee, Rice, Broad and French - gives an indication of the strength of the county that summer. But could Notts afford to lose four such players for a county game? Clive Rice, as the Notts captain, was perhaps the vital player. Should he desert the county? South Africa at that time were banned from Test cricket. This game would be Rice’s sole opportunity to appear in an International at Lord’s. He chose to play.

In the event, Tim Robinson and Mick Newell batted so determinedly for Notts that the county were never in danger of defeat. Robinson made 137 and 76, Newell 133* and 55. On the last day, Eddie Hemmings exploited a crumbling pitch and Notts came very close to victory. Surely you don’t need reminding that Notts were County Champions that summer?

Back 10 or so years to 1983, the last game of the season for Essex. Notts were 100 runs in arrears on first innings. Bob White and Basher Hassan opened the second innings and reached 134, with moments to go before the close. At this point Bob White was bowled by John Lever. A nightwatchman, Gordon Edwards came in and was immediately lbw to Lever. The following morning Notts lost Randall to Lever. Hassan was still batting well, but he hooked a ball from Lever straight into his own mouth. Teeth and blood splattered the grass. Hassan went straight over the midwicket boundary and into the adjacent hospital still wearing his pads. When Essex batted in the final innings, Notts had Hassan and Bill Taylor unable to field, so Test selector and Essex captain, Brian Taylor, volunteered to field as a substitute. Whether that was really in Notts interests is a moot point. Taylor was a specialist wicketkeeper!

The 1984 game at Chelmsford was an interesting one in retrospect. It took place in early May. Essex had won the 1983 Championship, and had a very strong side led by Keith Fletcher. Fletcher put Notts in. Broad and Robinson, considered the best opening pair in England were both out with only five runs on the board. Notts fought back to reach 264. Essex responded with 60-1. 70 minutes later they were all out for 93, destroyed by Kevin Saxelby. The follow on was enforced and an identical pattern emerged. Essex reached 205-2 - all out 257. This time Richard Hadlee did the damage.  Broad and Robinson calmly hit the 87 runs needed for victory – a win by 10 wickets. Again readers won’t require more than a nudge to recall that summer’s ending. Essex were again Champions : Notts finished runners-up after a hair-raising game at Taunton. That however is another story, best told by Mike Bore.

Like a politician, I’ve paraded these stories before you as a smokescreen to disguise the sordid truth. Nottinghamshire have won precisely one game at Chelmsford - the 1984 encounter just described. The first visit was only in 1938, mainly because Notts in the early days thought Essex a little beneath them and rarely arranged fixtures between the two counties - Essex weren’t going to draw crowds to Trent Bridge. Matters were organised in a different way before the First World War. Then between the wars Essex had Leyton as the county headquarters, recalled now only by the 555 Sutcliffe and Holmes record first wicket partnership.

It’s 23 years since Notts tasted victory at Chelmsford; the last two visits were in 2002 and 2003, both defeats. Everyone bar Will Jefferson will try to forget them. Jefferson hit an unbeaten 165 in 2002, giving Essex the Second Division title - Notts finished third. Both counties won promotion.
The 2007 match will be the 12th between the two at Chelmsford. It’s clearly time Notts came out on top.