Nottinghamshire travel to Old Trafford this week, taking on Lancashire in the final fixture of a dramatic County Championship season. Chris Read’s men have led from the front all year, flying out of the blocks to grind out victories in their first four matches and they haven’t looked back – largely thanks to the performances from inspired signing Hashim Amla, the South African batsman who averaged 75 runs per innings, and Australian David Hussey, who then replaced him. The pair sit atop of the national batting averages, and the fact that Notts’ next best batsman is wicketkeeper Chris Read, in 15th place, tells its own story.
With the ball, Notts have been indebted to the performances of Andre Adams, who has relished to the responsibility of leading the attack by taking 66 wickets in the competition to date. This whole-hearted Kiwi turns up to play, every day of the week, and it is no surprise to see that he is the leading wicket-taker in the country. Adams’ performances have been supported by the likes of Stuart Broad, who in his two appearances this season, grabbed the headlines with 19 wickets at just 16 runs-a-piece.
After Notts’ title hopes sustained a severe blow following their defeat to Yorkshire last week, the season is fascinatingly poised, all coming down to one final game. There are two certainties awaiting Mick Newell’s men when they arrive at Old Trafford: if it rains anywhere in the country, it will be in Manchester; and despite the conditions, the wicket will be as dry as the Lancashire members’ wit. When the ball spins at Old Trafford, it does so sharply, negating any hope the batsman has of readjusting his shot.
According to sources within the Notts camp, this factor will present young left-arm spinner Graeme White with his second opportunity in Championship cricket this season, following his debut at Tunbridge Wells. Worryingly, the Notts spin attack has mustered just 27 wickets this season, with Samit Patel taking 24 of them. They will be matched up against Lancashire’s veteran left-arm spinner Gary Keedy, who sits sixth in the national averages with 30 wickets to his name - only Murali Kartik is above him in the spin bowling department - and his young protégé Steven Kerrigan, who has 25 wickets to his name.
As daunting a prospect as this is for the Notts slow men, and White in particular, the key will be getting into the game early and establishing some control. During my time on the Notts playing staff, West Indian all-rounder Jimmy Adams would tell me to roll my sleeves up and get into a scrap in those opening overs of a spell, busting a gut to ensure that you deliver the ball on a tight line and control the batsman’s hitting areas. “You bowl four overs for eight runs,” he would say to me “and your captain will keep you on. Then you can look at flighting the odd ball up or tweaking the field. But if those first four over go for 20 runs, your skipper will be looking around the field for a bowling change.” Of course, he was right – and while this may not be the romantic notion we associate with the subtle art of spin bowling – this is the grim reality of professional cricket. The arty stuff will come when you have a sweat on and are into your work.
The good news is that the title is still in Notts’ hands, sitting two points clear of Somerset and seven ahead of Yorkshire at the top of the table. To win at Old Trafford, the batsmen will have to fire in their first innings to establish a big total – making best use of a pitch that is likely to tire quickly and misbehave. Only then will Chris Read have the confidence to give White and Patel overs in tandem during the second innings, without nervously glancing at the scoreboard whenever a run is scored. The talk may be of spin, but it will take a mammoth team effort to haul Read’s men over the winning line.