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April 9, 2014
Nottinghamshire 272 (Patel 93, Hales 61, Anderson 5-55) and 220 (Wessels 90, Smith 5-53) beat Lancashire 144 (Smith 42*, Fletcher 3-15) and 303 (Prince 100, Smith 76, Gurney 4-81) by 45 runs
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A record seventh-wicket partnership between Ashwell Prince and Tom Smith proved in vain for Lancashire as they slipped to a 45-run defeat against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge.
Set an unlikely 349 to win, Lancashire appeared doomed when they subsided to 112 for 6 shortly after lunch. But, with the pitch easing and Smith and Prince counter-attacking bravely, runs started to flow in a stand that was eventually worth 147 - a Lancashire record for the seventh-wicket against Nottinghamshire.
Defeat was cruel on Smith, in particular. He added 118 runs in the match to the five-wicket haul in Nottinghamshire's second innings and was only dismissed when Luke Fletcher, armed with the second new ball, produced a beauty to take his outside edge.
Prince was last man out when, left only with James Anderson in support, he went across his stumps in an attempt to clip a full toss over mid-wicket and instead lost his leg stump.
He looked a class above his teammates. While he enjoyed two or three reprieves - a desperately tough stumping chance on six; a bad miss by Jake Ball at mid-off on 18 and a top-edge that seemed to be left by Ball and Phil Jaques on 92 - in between he produced some masterful batting.
Negating the movement by leaving well, playing well forward and right in front of his eyes, he also attacked when the opportunity allowed and pulled one six off Andy Carter that would have pleased Viv Richards.
In the end, Lancashire paid the price for their loose batting in the first inning and their loose bowling in Nottinghamshire's. They allowed, in their coach Peter Moore's estimation, Nottinghamshire to score "50 or 60" more than par in that first innings which, when you look at the margin of victory, turned out to be defining. Had they won, it would have been their highest fourth-innings run-chase since 2002.
Afterwards Moores, who like his Nottinghamshire counterpart Mick Newell will be interviewed for the England job on Wednesday, defended his policy of not signing an overseas batsman to bolster Lancashire's brittle top-order.
"We want to give opportunities to our own," Moores said. "We think that you don't really know how good they can be until they come up against top players. In the past, that has worked well for us and there were several players in our Championship winning side who emerged that way. Having said that, we reserve the right to bring in an overseas player, but it might be we go the whole season without one."
It is possible that this will have been Moores' last game in charge at Lancashire. But he insisted that speculation around him being appointed to the England coaching role was not causing a distraction for the team.
"When you are involved in very good games of cricket like this one, it is very easy to keep your focus on Lancashire," he said. "Like everyone else at the club, I have poured a lot of energy into preparing for the season and all my efforts are still on the job in hand."
Lancashire expect to have Glen Chapple and Kyle Hogg available for selection for their next game - at home against Warwickshire from a week on Sunday - while Kyle Jarvis, Steven Croft and Karl Brown will also be considered for selection.
Lancashire actually started the second day very well. Having utilised the heavy roller just before play - under the new playing regulations a side can only use it once per game - nightwatchman Simon Kerrigan and Paul Horton looked comfortable on a surface that was appreciably slower and added 70 for the second wicket.
But once the stand was broken, Lancashire collapsed. They lost five wickets for 36, with Kerrigan playing for non-existent spin and Andrea Agathangelou punished for a clumsy forward prod, playing with a braced front leg and hard hands, that failed to negate some gentle spin and edged a catch to slip.
There were many heroes for Nottinghamshire. Ball, who produced a couple of wonderful deliveries to account for Horton and Luke Procter, both of whom had to play balls that nipped away from them, enjoyed an impressive debut and looks a seamer with a bright career ahead of him at this level.
Harry Gurney, meanwhile, had the pace and fitness to hurry Prince even when he was well established on a pitch that had slowed considerably and found Alex Davies' edge with a brute of a ball that reared on him. But it was Fletcher, who limped off the field with what the club believed to be cramp, who was the pick of the bowlers and made crucial breakthroughs with the new ball several times in the game.
It all means that Nottinghamshire will have quite a seam unit at their command this season. While Andre Adams is still a little way from fitness - coach Mick Newell pointed out that Adams had started 11 games last season but finished only seven - Peter Siddle is available for their next match, starting at Lord's on Sunday and Ajmal Shahzad is also close to fitness. Whether they have the spin attack to mount a serious title challenge remains to be seen but, on the strength of this match, they look strong contenders.
The game also offered a first opportunity to witness the tactical importance of the new heavy roller regulations. While complicated and prosaic to the causal watcher, it could prove a crucial factor in the season. Here Lancashire, who gambled on not using the roller on the second day in the belief that rain would render it wasteful, were punished for their choice. By the time they did use it, the indentations made on a damp first day pitch had set into the surface and provided assistance to Nottinghamshire's seamers.
The playing regulations do seem to be working, though. While the 2013 season as characterised by slow pitches crushed to death by endless rolling and the previous few years had seen batting become a lottery as the roller was banned entirely, the ECB may now have found a decent compromise.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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