Pardoe fights as Nottinghamshire let chances slip
Worcestershire 253 for 7 v Nottinghamshire
After a while, you start to wonder if Nottinghamshire go out of their way to make life difficult for themselves, as if they need a particular kind of challenge to make winning cricket matches worthwhile.
Close examination of the facts would probably prove it was not the case but by the end of last year's title-winning campaign it felt like they had pulled themselves out of a hole time and again and wound up champions despite themselves.
This year they have carried on in similar vein, beating Hampshire first up after a wobbly batting performance rescued by Samit Patel's hundred and improbably overcoming Yorkshire last week from a first-innings deficit of 193.
After the first day here, there is every reason to suspect that Worcestershire will not offer them an easy ride. So far, certainly, there has been more credit due to the relegation favourites than the defending champions, who chose this occasion to squander chances in the field.
They gave their opponents the benefit of four dropped catches, three of which were of the kind that Mick Newell, Nottinghamshire's director of cricket, would them to take in their sleep.
Alex Hales and Neil Edwards, at first and third slips respectively, took it in turns to drop Gareth Andrew off Charlie Shreck, both of them routine slip catches. Hales missed another opportunity - admittedly somewhat harder - when Matt Pardoe's drive against Luke Fletcher flew off the edge.
Newell, perched in his eyrie on the third level of the pavilion, was wearing a face like thunder at this point - but that was not the end of it. Mark Wagh then compounded his frustration by spilling the most straightforward chance of them all at midwicket, with Pardoe again fortunate, although Newell's expression was most likely out-thundered by Paul Franks, the unfortunate bowler.
They weren't exactly inexpensive misses, either. Andrew, who had scored 4 at the point of his double escape, added 44 before he lobbed an ordinary ball from Patel's left-arm spin straight to Andre Adams at cover. Pardoe, given his second chances on 15 and 35, was 56 not out at the close and Worcestershire, having surrendered from a good position against Warwickshire last week, will be satisfied with their day's work.
"Four missed catches, all of the which should have been taken, have cost us a lot of runs and a lot of time in the field," Newell said. "I can't really explain it because we are generally pretty good in that respect. I'm frustrated and I know the bowlers are too."
Newell is disarmingly frank about Nottinghamshire's strengths and weaknesses. In his own words, they are a "one-dimensional" team, heavily reliant on their seam attack's ability to exploit bowler-friendly conditions at Trent Bridge and make up for the shortcomings of a brittle batting line-up.
Sharp fielding is also part of the game plan and, given that slip fielders don't usually find their concentration drifting here, it is one area in which Newell has every reason to expect flawless execution.
Worcestershire's slips are likely to have their chance in due course and they will look to extend a potentially strong position on the second day. Pardoe, for all his moments of luck, looked impressive. The 20-year-old left-hander from Stourbridge is in only his third match but he looks organised at the crease and times his shots well, with the confidence, honed in the tough world of Birmingham League cricket, to take an opportunity when it presents itself. He already has two Championship half-centuries and this is his best score to date.
His runs, with support from Andrew and veteran Aussie Damien Wright helped Worcestershire recover from a much less promising position just after lunch, when they were rocking at 102 for 5 after having been 55 without loss and Adams already had four wickets, the last of which came with the help of a brilliant leg-side catch by the peerless Chris Read behind the stumps.
It appeared they had wasted a good start, with Vikram Solanki having been guilty of a loose stroke when he was caught at third slip and Moeen Ali of an error of judgment when he lost his off stump offering no stroke.
Read's outstanding athleticism and safe hands stopped Alexei Kervezee in his tracks when the Dutchman looked to be setting himself up for a substantial innings, which was probably a critical moment. There is no better wicketkeeper in the Championship than the Nottinghamshire captain. It was a pity for his team that others could not follow his example.