Jim Hindson mulls over Notts title hopes in the LV= County Championship.
Another Championship game for Notts and another win – the county’s best start in this competition since 1922. With a quarter of the games now completed following the victory over Durham, Notts sit top of the table, eight points clear of Yorkshire who have played a game more. Durham meanwhile, who have won consecutive titles over the last two years, languish one place off the bottom, 55 points below Chris Read’s men. Significantly, it was their first Championship defeat since August 2008.
After play, Director of Cricket Mick Newell refused to be drawn into any early speculation on the destiny of the title, commenting: “There was no competition for Durham last year, but it’s looking like a more even contest this time.” He would be mindful that his team take on Hampshire at Trent Bridge on Monday followed by Essex also at home, at the end of May, without an overseas player. Hashim Amla is travelling to the West Indies today to link up with South Africa. The impact of Amla’s stay cannot be underestimated – 377 runs from five innings at an average of 75. He will leave big boots to fill before the arrival of Notts favourite David Hussey, in early June.
There are certainly grounds for optimism in this form of the game, with new signing Steve Mullaney, who hit his maiden Championship century at Hampshire, making a strong case to be promoted up the order, and Notts number three Mark Wagh also discovering a rich vein of form. Notts lower middle order surely has to be the strongest in the country with Chris Read and Paul Franks batting at eight and nine in the Durham victory, while Alex Hales is likely to slot into the top order, following his blistering double-century for the Second XI this week.
"There are certainly grounds for optimism in this form of the game, with new signing Steve Mullaney, who hit his maiden Championship century at Hampshire, making a strong case to be promoted up the order."
Supporters should certainly take heart that, arguably, Notts two best seam bowlers have been absent through injury in the last couple of games, yet they have still managed to take 20 wickets in both matches, with Darren Pattinson and Charlie Shrek coming in for Andre Adams and Luke Fletcher, and performing admirably. It remains to be seen how much Notts will see of their England players. Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann are unlikely to feature, and while Ryan Sidebottom is set to play an integral part of England’s one-day side this summer, he is not guaranteed selection in Test cricket. Notts would certainly welcome his return.
While you cannot win the Championship in the first few games, Notts have certainly set themselves up for a serious challenge for this most prestigious of competitions. The very nature of the Championship, with fixtures running over four days at a time over the entire season means it is the ultimate test of fitness, ability and mental attitude. It is a trophy that Notts unashamedly covet and with the prize pot now £500,000, winning it can have a dramatic effect on the club.
The key to success has to be strength in depth and the word coming from the Notts dressing room is that they feel they have a stronger ‘bench’ than Durham. Both sides were missing key players, but the calibre of those coming into Newell’s team gave them the definitive edge against a Durham side, who let’s face it, do not know how to lose in this form of the game.
The fact that Notts matched up so well to last year’s champions should not be underestimated and it is tempting to get carried away with their title chances. It is still only May, so a word of caution is wise. After that great start in 1922, Notts were eventual runners up to Yorkshire, who are sniffing at their heels in this year’s competition. It should make for fascinating viewing. Watch this space.