Essex 99 and 129 for 3 (Browne 60*) trail Nottinghamshire 323 (Mullaney 117, James 51, Snater 7-98) by 95 runs
When Alastair Cook finally retires for good, and let’s hope in county cricket it will be a good while yet, he might well look upon Trent Bridge without too many pangs of regret.
Cook only managed three half-centuries for England on this ground in 24 attempts, although he might find consolation that his only Test half-century came against Australia in 2013 in a thrilling Ashes encounter which fell to England by only 14 runs. Memory jog: Ian Bell’s sumptuous century, Jimmy Anderson’s 10-wicket match and, after a last-wicket partnership of 65, Brad Haddin given out after the thinnest of inside edges. Cue pandemonium.
His record against Nottinghamshire, not a long list because of his international success, is nevertheless even less rewarding: he has never passed 50. In farming terms, which is how much of his life now plays out, every time he comes to Nottingham he must feel as forlorn as Tess of the d’Urbervilles, hacking at swedes at Flintcomb Ash.
Cook has made 3 and 35 for Essex here, bowled by his old mucker, Stuart Broad in the first innings, and lbw to Lyndon James second time around. It looked plumb, although did he hint at the possibility that there might have been the slightest inside edge?
If he was aggrieved then a brief cross-legged pause at the crease, followed by the tiniest glance at his bat, was a response of the utmost decorum. It was not about to bring demands for him to relinquish his knighthood in disgrace. There again, Sir Alastair, no need to worry about that, nobody resigns for anything these days.
Two days into this match, Nottinghamshire are well enough ahead to be able to survive a potential third-day washout before pushing for victory on the final day that is forecast to be dry but cloudy. Essex followed up their 99 all out in the first innings with a painstaking 129 for 3 from 59 overs, and clearly have draw points on their mind, but they still trail by 95. Notts need a good Sunday morning.
Steven Mullaney’s 117 was the ballast behind Notts’ first-innings lead of 224, and he passed 8,000 first-class runs in the process. All that he said could not be faulted: “I thought we bowled really well. The scoreboard’s not really gone anywhere. After two days we couldn’t hope to be in a better position against arguably the best side in the country.”
After three days, though, their advantage won’t feel quite as good. The forecast looks terminal around the country, and local clubs would be wondering whether to skip pitch preparation even as they fielded premature drop-outs from players who suddenly realised they had to be in all day for a vital delivery from Amazon.
Mullaney’s century had two moods. He had feasted on some ordinary Essex bowling in reaching 63 overnight, but the loss of James and Tom Moores to Shane Snater in successive balls persuaded him that he must adopt a more watchful approach. He did just that against the seamers, although he had a couple of risky moments against Simon Harmer, not least the shot that brough up his hundred, an under-edged slog sweep which whistled to long leg. He fell to a good nip-backer from Siddle which so impressed him he depicted its course to the bowler like a budding artist before departing.
Snater, a Zimbabwe-born Netherlands seamer, took a career-best 7 for 98 in only his sixth first-class appearance, as he removed James and Tom Moores in successive balls before adding two late wickets. His fast-medium possessed impressive energy and he has been the best Essex pace bowler on show.
But Mullaney, who offered a difficult chance to gully before adding to his overnight 63, completed a stand of 123 with James, a home-produced allrounder of promise, and 66 with Broad, who Leicestershire supporters will forever insist is not homegrown, even though he was born in Nottingham, and whose 41 from 42 balls was a recognisable stand-and-deliver affair which climaxed with a step-away six over midwicket against Snater and an emphatic pull in the same direction against the veteran Australian Siddle in the following over; Siddle was collared so easily he must have felt his age. It’s 36.
Nottinghamshire had to labour for their wickets in Essex’s second innings, with Luke Fletcher bowling well enough without reward, after his first-innings 6 for 24, to reflect that fortune had soon deserted him. The removal of Tom Westley (who might have left it) and Dan Lawrence (who played down the wrong line) left Notts in the ascendancy but Nick Browne, who has played solidly throughout, found an ally in Paul Walter as Essex batted out the last 24 overs, pining for rain.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps