Mullaney averts Notts crisis
Nottinghamshire 273 for 9 (Taylor 47, Mullaney 68, Meaker 4-70) v Surrey
Nottinghamshire would be attracting as much attention as Surrey for reasons they had not anticipated but for their points tally having been inflated by a win over Derbyshire.
Neither side has shown much so far to justify pre-season optimism yet they produced an opening day of compelling intensity that suggested better to come from both. Surrey claimed three bowling points but Notts fought back well in the final session, or at least Steven Mullaney did.
Mullaney stepped in neatly where Notts usually look to Chris Read as the man to pull them out of a tricky spot. They could not on this occasion as, rarely, their wicketkeeper and captain is injured, which might be mentioned merely in passing but for the fact that Read had not previously missed a Championship match since he was trying to forge a Test career in 2006. He had made 98 consecutive appearances since the start of the 2007 season and there was talk of a presentation being made had he completed a century. Sadly, a nagging neck injury has put paid to that.
In his absence, therefore, someone else had to step up after Notts, asked to bat first, had struggled to 181 for 7 as a Surrey attack, in which there was no place for Chris Tremlett, made them work hard for runs, even on a pitch that looks essentially sound.
Mullaney, who has shown before that he has something of Read's doggedness in his mindset, provided what was required in an eighth-wicket stand of 66, although there was much merit too in the support offered by Ajmal Shahzad, whose restraint and discipline reflected well on him. He faced 84 balls for his eight runs, barely striking a blow in anger, and was cross with himself in the end for failing to resist a Jade Dernbach bouncer that had him caught behind off a top edge.
It was a second wicket for Dernbach, who had looked as though he might be the bowler of the day when he wrecked Alex Hales' stumps in his second over. Hales, who earned compliments for the new discipline in his batting after an unusually patient half-century in the win over Derbyshire, has since returned scores of 4, 2, 0 and 4, much to his own frustration.
In the event it was not Dernbach but Stuart Meaker and Tim Linley who did most to justify Gareth Batty's decision to field. Meaker, whose high ambitions for this season have not been helped by a thigh injury, ended Ed Cowan's hopes of building on a morning of hard graft when he bowled him off an inside edge shortly before lunch, and struck again soon afterwards when Michael Lumb, beaten three times by Dernbach in the preceding over, tried to work him through midwicket only to be caught off a leading edge at mid-off.
The pressure on the home side had grown through a string of maidens -- seven in his first 10 overs -- from Tim Linley, who was unlucky to go wicketless before lunch but was rewarded in the afternoon when Samit Patel, forced to defend on the back foot, edged to first slip, where Gary Wilson took a good catch.
Of the front line batsmen, only James Taylor had looked in any way at ease. Captain for this match, Taylor's innings had for the most part been a mix of well-judged leaves and sweetly timed boundaries until, three short of a half-century, he misjudged a ball from Linley that he chopped on to his leg stump.
Meaker by then had beaten Riki Wessels for pace and claimed a fourth wicket when Paul Franks was drawn into nibbling at one outside off stump, at which moment Notts were not well fancied even to scrape a solitary batting point.
In the end they picked up two thanks to Mullaney, who drew confidence from six fours and a second half-century in as many games to take on even Dernbach ultimately, taking 12 in one over, including six pulled over midwicket, although those were the last of his runs before he was leg before to Linley for 68 in the next over.
Wessels will keep wicket in place of Read, while Franks's first appearance of the season will be curtailed should England decide to go without Stuart Broad or Graeme Swann at Lord's.