Patel's career-best swagger brightens drab encounter
Gloucestershire 303 (Roderick 96) and 30 for 1 trail Nottinghamshire 535 for 8 dec (Patel 257*) by 202 runs
Thanks to Samit Patel, Nottinghamshire find themselves in a commanding position going into the final day against Gloucestershire. This match, for the most part, has hummed along like an old fridge: serving its purpose but giving little joy to no one. That was until Patel interjected to produce an innings of immense quality. The 31-year-old finished unbeaten on 257, a new first class record, on a pitch that has offered nothing to either discipline.
To understand how dominating this knock was, consider this: it eclipses the 226 runs he has accumulated over all of his previous eight Championship innings this season. And of course, a bit of red ink does his average no harm.
Patel's unbeaten 257, which featured 23 fours and a towering six to midwicket off Jack Taylor, was brought up with a tapped single and fist pump that bumped a 256 against Durham MCCU in April 2013 down the list. The merits of classifying university matches as first class is another debate for another time, but that Patel was desperate to beat that score - "it was the most nervous I was the whole time I was batting" - underlines his desire for worthwhile contributions.
The four through cover point that took Patel to his hundred summed up his innings: not even a Test batsman of the class of Notts' number three Cheteshwar Pujara (the next highest scorer of the innings with 67), had been able to time as well or as often on this pitch. This was his first Championship hundred of the season, and his 25th in his first class career. It was also his second against Gloucestershire - that first, a score of 176 (his previous career best in the County Championship) coming way back in April 2007, at this very ground. It was in the back of his mind - "you always remember your best" - and he breezed passed it with two runs struck over the top of wide mid off.
Both 2007 and 2017 Patel still have much in common. Time takes the shine away from much, but it does not seemed to have dulled any of the strokes he played with such relish as a 22-year-old. There remains an exuberance to his shot-making, most notable in the way that he used his feet to the spinners to hit them for boundaries inside-out over extra cover - the only region left open to him. Challenge posed, challenge accepted. The swagger after each boundary has, if anything, become more pronounced.
Perhaps a 31-year-old Patel has learned the value of patience, though even that is simply an observation made in hindsight: he spent more than eight hours at the crease absorbing 452 deliveries, showing great restraint to not make the mistakes of those who fell before and during his stay at the crease. Most batsmen have been undone snatching at opportunities to score. Patel simply waited. And in waiting, he made up for lost time.
"It reminds you of the bad days you have with the bat. The times you can't score any runs and you're searching. I suppose you've got to try and make use of it.
"I've been training hard with Mooresy (head coach Peter Moores) and Pike (assistant coach Paul Franks) and my mindset has been pretty good for a few weeks now. I've just not been converting as much as I should have done."
On 185, he had a life: skipping down the pitch to the left-arm spin of Graeme van Buuren, he struck high towards long on, where the fielder in question looked to have taken a good catch. Patel thought he was out, but the catch was spilled - in fact, it have even gone for six. Instead, four was signalled. That was about as ungainly as his innings got. On 192, he struck the medium pace of Kieran Noema-Barnett for consecutive fours through cover point to take him to 200 from 379 balls. "I've been searching for a big one for a few weeks now." Here it was.
His supporting actors changed throughout the day. Michael Lumb looked as good as you could for 23 before he was trapped by a searing yorker from Chris Liddle. Riki Wessels came out to instigate the charge, scoring his first boundary with a trademark sweep to square leg off Neoma-Barnett. A third batting point came up an over later before Patel struck his 12th boundary to take Nottinghamshire past Gloucestershire's first effort of 303.
While Wessels was unable to last much beyond lunch, trapped LBW by Jack Taylor, Chris Read's enterprising 40, which featured the game's first six, clubbed crisply over long on, ensured Notts put on 126 in the middle session to go into tea with a comfortable lead of 136. Luke Wood tagged in for the evening, striking a composed 38 as part of a 95-run partnership with Patel that further demoralised Gloucester, taking the lead to 232 before Read called the innings off.
More misery was to come for the hosts as Cameron Bancroft was struck in front second ball by Luke Fletcher, just as he was in the first innings. Unfortunately for him, this time the umpire raised his finger. The 24-year-old from Western Australia is now averaging 16.44 from nine innings: a return far below what is expected of an overseas player, let alone someone of Bancroft's talent. The stodginess of this Bristol pitch is enough to make any Perth-dweller homesick. Chris Dent and Will Tavare reconvene tomorrow, 202 behind with bold ambitions to try and take Gloucestershire to safety.
There was further reason to cheer for Nottinghamshire as Moores confirmed to BBC Radio Nottingham that James Pattinson will rejoin the squad for their Royal London Cup knock-out match on Tuesday against Somerset. He will then be available for the following two Championship matches before his deal expires at the end of June.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport