Mullaney graft leads safety quest
Nottinghamshire 161 for 2 (Mullaney 88, Lumb 54) v Middlesex
Nottinghamshire have one of the most attractive batting line-ups in the county game. Seldom can they have been as becalmed as this. A mantra of "safety first" may not be inspiring - it was under this slogan that the Conservatives lost the 1929 election - but there was no denying its effectiveness at Lord's.
Nottinghamshire have already put themselves into a position from which they should not lose this game, especially taking into account the disagreeable weather forecast. Even a draw would put them on the brink of confirming their Division One status.
After Middlesex won the toss and bowled, adhesiveness was needed to withstand a typically probing opening spell from Tim Murtagh. But his visions of inflicting the same damage on Nottinghamshire's top order as he had on England's eight days ago encountered a roadblock named Steven Mullaney.
There is nothing glamorous about Mullaney's batting, but he is assured playing the ball through the offside and leaves the ball well. It is a method that earned him a hundred at The Oval in July - his first game opening the batting for Nottinghamshire - and he needs only 12 more runs to add another London century.
It could have been very different though. To the third ball of the day, Mullaney called a sharp single - and it looked rather too sharp as a direct hit dislodged the stumps. But he was given the benefit of the doubt, the ball went to the boundary and Mullaney was off the mark with a five.
Mullaney was well-supported by Michael Lumb, who provided a reminder that he is capable of attritional batsmanship to go with the pyrotechnics England see in Twenty20s. Lumb had reached 54 until he fell top edging a sweep to Ollie Rayner's offspin. Rayner did not enjoy a pitch offering the assistance of The Oval - when he ravaged Surrey's batting with 15 wickets - but he bowled with impressive control once again. Based on a season's Championship haul of 41 wickets at 21 apiece, Rayner must have a reasonable chance of an England Lions berth.
Shorn of Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones - who is out for the rest of the season - Middlesex were a little disappointing in the field. James Harris went for 3.54 an over - expensive in the context of an overall run rate of 2.32 - seemingly trying to bowl too quickly and too short.
Perhaps he looks at the admirable Murtagh, who had to go to Ireland to begin his international career, and senses that the England selectors do not look kindly upon a perceived lack of pace. The risk, of course, is that Harris loses the consistency that meant 11 counties sought his signature when he moved on from Glamorgan a year ago. An average of 40 this season suggests Harris has yet to get the balance quite right.
As the evening descended into farce - the players went off for bad light, returned without discernible improvement and then went off for good 13 deliveries later - it was hard to avoid asking what Alex Hales made of it all. He is the top-ranked Twenty20 batsman in the world but no longer able to make Nottinghamshire's Championship side after a wretched red-ball season: hardly what he would have envisaged when his county prevented him going to the IPL in April.
Hales will soon have to make a decision: does he want to play Test cricket - something not beyond a 24-year-old of his talent, but which would take copious graft on the county circuit? The alternative is to maximise his Twenty20 skill, something that may be in England's immediate interests given his integral role in that format. If Hales pursues the second path - and he is due to have a meeting with Nottinghamshire to discuss the matter after the season - the IPL will certainly have a place for his belligerence.