Fletcher's run-out mishap ends dream of maiden century
Durham 162 and 162 for 5 (Jennings 62*) trail Nottinghamshire 305 (Fletcher 92, Pattinson 59, Rushworth 4-54) by 19 runs
Nottinghamshire's burly nightwatchman Luke Fletcher fell eight runs of a maiden first-class hundred when he was run out in desperately unfortunate circumstances as Nottinghamshire built a sizeable advantage against Durham at Emirates Riverside.
Fletcher earned Nottinghamshire a formidable 143-run lead and they strengthened their position by taking four prime wickets before the deficit had been cleared and that of Paul Coughlin for a breezy 36 once it had.
The home side's hopes of recovery rest largely on the slim shoulders of Keaton Jennings, who composed a polished 62 not out in the 47-over evening session. But if this game ends as now expected sometime on the third day Durham will be a mere 89 points behind their current opponents. They do, though, have a game in hand.
At Papplewick and Linby, the Nottinghamshire club where Fletcher first learned his cricket, they may have been raising a glass to their former player on the second evening of this game after his beautifully-constructed 209-minute innings had played the major role in establishing his side's superiority in this game.
There will also be talk of the disaster that befell him when his maiden century was in sight.
Pattinson played the ball into the off side where Keaton Jennings effected a fine stop. By then, Fletcher had come two thirds down the wicket but was sent back by his partner who had at first made as if to run.
Fletcher slipped onto his backside with the sort of thud that shifts tectonic plates. He got up without his bat and galloped back to the bowler's end like a frightened shire horse yearning for its stable. But he failed to beat Jennings' accurate throw and the bails were whipped off by Paul Collingwood with the batsman out of his ground. Fletcher had made 92, thus equalling his highest first-class score. He may well have got home if he could have stretched a bat out.
Forget, please, the condescension often attached to nightwatchmen's innings: this was a proper knock in which Fletcher made the most of his ability to drive through the covers and clip the ball off his legs. He defended the good balls with unruffled precision and took advantage of Durham's curious willingness to feed his best shots.
After Samit Patel was caught at slip off the seventh ball of the morning, Fletcher lost nothing by comparison with either Riki Wessels, who was leg before for eight when wafting across the line to Mark Wood, or Chris Read, bowled for 17 when playing loosely at a Paul Coughlin delivery which nipped back a shade.
He dealt phlegmatically with a scoreboard malfunction which gave him extra runs and led to him twice being warmly applauded by admittedly hypothermic home supporters for reaching his fifty when he had not, in fact, done so, and then not at all when he actually achieved his fourth first-class half-century in 121 innings. Fletcher's team mates on the balcony made good the deficiency in acclamation; they knew the value of this innings.
Undefeated on 51 at lunch, the mighty megalith contemplated a yet loftier goal in the afternoon. With James Pattinson offering sound support, it seemed possible that his first century for Nottinghamshire was in range after a decade of wholehearted trying.
Three fours in a Ryan Pringle over took him into the nineties, a position from which, so the former Kent batman Trevor Ward frequently asserted, all that is needed is "two good hits".
Ward, alas, was oft dismissed when attempting to put fine theory into rough practice and Fletcher, too, was denied his longed-for glory.
Nottinghamshire's seventh-wicket pair had put on 108-runs. After consoling his partner, although "Sorry, mate" may not have done the needful, Pattinson reached his own fifty and had extended his team's advantage to 139 when he skied an attempted pull off Graham Onions to a scuttling Stuart Poynter behind the stumps.
Already the Australian looks like one of the signings of the season. He has scored 148 runs in two innings and by the end of the second day here he had taken 13 wickets, a haul he completed when he removed Coughlin and Collingwood, the latter quite brilliantly snaffled one-handed by a leaping Wessels at first slip after making 40.
In the first three overs of the innings Jake Ball had accounted for Stephen Cook and Jack Burnham, both of whom edged good balls to the cordon and Fletcher then enjoyed more joy when he had Michael Richardson leg before for eight. Down the road Chester-le-Street drew their match although Durham's Adam Hickey made 58 and took three wickets for his new club. Across the land cricket is beginning and good coaching being done. On such a Saturday April's cruelties seem well hidden.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications