Worcestershire prosper as Notts left threadbare
Worcestershire 89 for 2 (Oliver 52*) trail Nottinghamshire 240 (Taylor 69, Wessels 65, Morris 3-70) by 151 runs
Not everybody believes that a side with such abundance of batting talent as Nottinghamshire are actually in a relegation scrap. Perhaps they are right. To be in a relegation scrap, it is incumbent upon you to do a bit of scrapping. Dismissed disturbingly easily for 240 by Worcestershire at Trent Bridge, it is not immediately apparent that they are doing just that.
Mick Newell, Nottinghamshire's coach, preferred to contend that their batsmen are merely out of nick and suggested that their first-innings score was just "a little under par". "There is no point getting cross after day one," he said.
But Nottinghamshire face an ordeal. They must brace themselves for contesting the rest of the match with a three-strong bowling unit after Andy Carter and Luke Fletcher, both recently back from loan spells, withdrew from the attack in quick succession because of injury.
"How do you manage a three-man bowling attack?" said Newell, lugubriously. "Good luck with that captain. Especially when one of them is a spinner on a pitch where he probably shouldn't really be bowling. In an ideal world you want to go for it in the first hour, but if things don't happen for you where do you go after 12 o'clock?"
Carter, who famously insisted in pre-season that he is not prone to injury, but has just had a lot of them, has a side strain that could mean another prolonged lay-off and Fletcher went to hospital to check on the extent of a damaged hamstring.
As for Worcestershire, who lie third bottom, every time they are promoted to Division One, they harden themselves for another struggle. They hang in matches for all they are worth - an admirable young seam attack did just that when Nottinghamshire were 98 for 1, at which point Alex Hales left a ball from Joe Leach that removed his off stump - and then redouble their efforts whenever they get on a bit of a roll.
To make matters worse for Newell, their place alongside Hampshire at the foot of Division One coincided with a members' meeting at Trent Bridge. The Nottingham Evening Post recorded how Newell was pilloried for being an England selector. It could be worse after a season like this: he could have been pilloried for being a Nottinghamshire selector.
You had to admire Newell's originality when he defended his England selectorial role (an honour surely, not an imposition) on the grounds that he was "very boring". In his defence, it should be pointed out that this was an exaggeration just in case people start avoiding him in the Post Office.
"This time last year I was an England selector and we were flying high in the Championship and playing good T20 cricket. I'd like to think I'm capable of combining two jobs. The selector's role takes up very little of my time with Notts. In a year and a half I've missed two days of cricket to attend meetings. I don't go to other matches. I do it all watching Notts or watching a video analysis system of other games. I'm a very boring man. I do that at home."
Two years ago, the Dull Men's Club - it really does exist - produced a 2014 calendar. January was the president of the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society; April's charms concerned a man who had a museum of milk bottles. Not everybody finds county cricket interesting, so if Newell's video analysis ever gets entirely out of control it might be wise in future years to keep an eye out for September.
When Newell walked into the lunchtime members' forum, Nottinghamshire were quite healthily placed at 102 for 2. Michael Lumb had clipped Jack Shantry weakly to midwicket and then there had been Hales' aberration - enough to goad one member into terming the world No. 3 ranked T20 batsman "useless" and demand he was dropped for younger talent. Newell flourished the averages in retort, which predictably fell in Hales' favour.
But if he skipped back up the steps to the dressing room, that vigour soon deserted him. Nottinghamshire's innings began to unravel - two Taylors gone within five overs in early afternoon, James lbw to Leach as he tried to manufacture a work through midwicket, not for the first time; Brendon, after a robust top score of 69, failing to strike Shantry down the ground.
The rush of wickets fell to Charlie Morris with Samit Patel, Chris Read and Ben Hutton - the last two within the space of three balls - all caught in the wicketkeeper/slip cordon. Worcestershire bowled consistently after lunch as Nottinghamshire lost eight wickets for 92 in 33 overs. An unbeaten half-century by Richard Oliver then left them in reasonable order by the close.
Leach, Shantry and Morris now have 103 Championship wickets between them and they were ably supported on this occasion by Ed Barnard, a former England U-19 in only his second first-class match, who gained rewards for some tight overs with the wicket of Ben Hilfenhaus. The praise of his coach Steve Rhodes was fitting. "I thought Ed was outstanding," he said. "That lad is only 19 and to bowl with such control and movement is great."
A last-wicket retort of 50 in seven overs between Riki Wessels and Carter allowed Nottinghamshire some release until Saeed Ajmal had Wessels caught in the deep for 65.
Ajmal's involvement lasted only nine balls so it was hard to draw conclusions on the judgment of Worcestershire's captain Daryl Mitchell that the remodelled version will "go from strength to strength". It will be intriguing to see how Nottinghamshire deal with him second time around.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps