Fletcher fills hole in Notts' attack
Durham 85 for 4 v Nottinghamshire
As is the way of things, by the time play would have been ending the clouds were high and the sky was clearing nicely to the west, promising an evening as clear and calm as the morning had been. In between, Nottinghamshire endured the frustration of a promising start thwarted as they seek victory in a match they believe they must win to retain realistic prospects of regaining the County Championship they surrendered to Lancashire last year.
Only in the morning session was play possible yet it had been a productive one against expectations for Nottinghamshire, who faced a Durham side apparently on the up while having to deal with the worst absenteeism they have faced all summer. Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad do not really count in that regard, but with James Taylor now in the senior England fold and Samit Patel still involved at Lions level, their batting is clearly undermined. To make matters worse, two of their first-choice bowling attack, Harry Gurney and Andre Adams, are injured. Given that he has taken 54 wickets, more than any bowler in the Championship, the loss of Adams, to a hamstring injury suffered at Taunton last week, is a serious blow.
Yet, having won the toss and put Durham in on a wicket that was well grassed in the middle at least, their progress was better than they may have anticipated.
Luke Fletcher, who has had injuries and fitness issues and had not played in the Championship since April, was recalled, eager to impress. He did so, too, taking two of the four wickets. Fletcher opened the season with seven in a win over Worcestershire at New Road yet took only one more in 61 overs in the three subsequent matches, hastening his return to the Second XI and allowing Gurney and Andy Carter to overtake him in the pecking order.
With Gurney nursing a hip injury, it was always likely Fletcher would return and he ran in with a clear sense of purpose. In a soundly economical opening spell, his first reward came with a ball that swung just enough to make Will Smith look foolish for offering no stroke. When he returned in the half-hour before lunch his fourth delivery was good enough to deny Mark Stoneman a half-century, the opening batsman pushing at one that took the edge and offered Chris Read his second catch.
The first by Read had seen off Phil Mustard, who was slow to leave the crease after driving a little loosely at a ball from Carter. Perhaps he was unsure there had been contact, or else it was simply disappointment, after a confident start, that his plan to build on back-to-back centuries in 40-over matches had been denied so soon.
All this had taken place to the accompaniment of the drone of a police helicopter and the wailing of sirens as a drama was unfolding barely half a mile away, where armed robbers held up a local Post Office. Happily no one was hurt.
Such distractions cannot help a batsman's concentration, although it ought not to have played a part in Smith's dismissal. Keaton Jennings, the 20-year-old former South Africa Under-19s captain who is playing in his second Championship match, may have had more of an excuse. He was leg before when he missed a ball from Ben Phillips that appeared not to deviate significantly.
It is left to Dale Benkenstein and Paul Collingwood to bring their experience to bear regardless of objects in the sky when play resumes. Nottinghamshire, who are 21 points behind Warwickshire and 10 behind second-placed Sussex, may get Swann or Taylor back, in which case either Graeme White or Steven Mullaney will make way, although it is more likely that Durham will benefit from the release at Lord's of Graham Onions, for whom Mitch Claydon will stand down.