Wagner immediately hits right notes for Lancashire
Lancashire 25 for 1 trail Nottinghamshire 242 (Read 52, Broad 43, Wagner 6-66) by 127 runs
So rapid has been Lancashire's recent progress up and down the levels of English first-class cricket that one or two mordant local wags have suggested that the next company to advertise its products at Emirates Old Trafford should be lift manufacturers. Indeed, since winning the title in 2011 the county has not spent successive seasons in the same division, so it is no surprise that a few gleeful Yorkshire zealots have advised their keenest rivals to sell Red Rose yo-yos to junior punters.
The theme at the club's recent media day was set early on as Lancashire's coach, Ashley Giles, and the club skipper, Steven Croft, talked about "consolidation" and "stability", with Croft offering, rather than conceding, the argument that simply staying in the Division One would represent progress for his team. So the home supporters who made their way away from the ground in the cold evening sunlight at the end of the first day of this game may have felt modestly encouraged by what they had seen.
The first 74.2 overs of County Championship cricket had been pleasing enough as Croft's seamers had dismissed Nottinghamshire for 242 on what still seems a decent batting wicket, albeit one that gives bowlers plenty of hope. Neil Wagner's 6 for 66 were the best figures returned by a Lancashire bowler on debut since Alfred Hall took 6 for 23 against Oxford University in May 1923. Kyle Jarvis supported him well by removing three batsmen and James Anderson, though wicketless, kept a tight line and was probably a little unfortunate.
Yet what may have calmed Lancashire supporters even more was the tranquil batting of Haseeb Hameed and Luke Procter, who guided their side to 25 for 1 after 19 overs with a combination of resolute defence and…even more resolute defence. Hameed's driven four off Jake Ball was one of only two boundaries in the home side's innings but that mattered little in the context of the game.
This four-man Nottinghamshire seam attack is one of the strongest on the circuit, especially when it includes Stuart Broad, and they gave Hameed and Procter a proper examination after Karl Brown had been leg before for nought when playing no shot to Jake Ball. Old Trafford loyalists were used to seeing their favourites crumble to 40 for 3 or something even more dismal in 2012 and 2014. It didn't happen like that on Sunday evening. So far, so acceptable.
For Nottinghamshire players, who came into this game fresh from their hard-quarried victory over Surrey, Sunday's play was surely something of a disappointment, although they are not far behind in the game. Eight of their batsmen got into double figures but no one scored more than Chris Read, whose 108-ball 52 rescued his team from 98 for 6, their grim score half an hour after lunch, when three wickets apiece for Wagner and Jarvis had removed all the top order batsmen.
True, both Jarvis and Wagner had bowled well in the morning session, with Wagner enjoying the swing he could get from a Dukes ball and Jarvis eventually finding his line and taking wickets even when he had switched ends, perhaps to accommodate Anderson's preference. But Greg Smith slapped Wagner carelessly to Liam Livingstone when he had made 17 and Brendan Taylor will not reflect too happily on the crooked drive that dragged a wide half volley from Wagner onto his middle stump. As Nottinghamshire's coaching consultant, Peter Moores, admitted later, too many of his batsmen had got starts and not gone on to play major innings against his old team.
Wagner, of course, was not complaining; Moores and Mick Newell, though, probably were. At which point Read played the sort of innings he has been producing for Nottinghamshire over the past 17 summers. First in combination with Broad, with whom he added 74 for the seventh wicket, then helped by Ball, whose 33 included two fine sixes off Jarvis, Read ensured that his bowlers would have a total to defend.
Nottinghamshire's skipper is a cricketer who seems steeped in the rich tradition of the county. One can imagine him enjoying playing alongside George Gunn or Joe Hardstaff. He rarely gives it away. Displaying obduracy during his stand with Broad, who was worked over by Wagner in his 45-ball 43, and then attacking a little more when joined by Ball, Read had taken the total to 229 for 7 when Wagner took three wickets in four overs to complete a fine first afternoon as a Lancashire cricketer.
And indeed, it eventually seemed entirely consonant with cricket's endearing ability to mock our expectations that on a day when much attention was given to Broad and Anderson, who have played 204 Tests between them, the modest batting honours of the day should be captured by Read, who has played just 15 five-day games for England and will probably play no more. Wagner, on the other hand, has played 19 Tests and New Zealand, his adopted country, will be rich in bowling resources if they do not need him again.