Fletcher shows all-round talent
Nottinghamshire 305 for 8 (Fletcher 92, Ealham 65*, Ervine 3-22) v Hampshire
Luke Fletcher, a 20-year-old from the Midlands unrelated to his distinguished namesakes Keith and Duncan but evidently an all rounder of marked talent, ensured that the Division One leaders achieved a considerably more substantial total than appeared likely for much of the opening day. His innings of 92, notable for three belted sixes, any number of other hearty shots and two chances offered from horrible, swirling skiers, enabled Nottinghamshire to reach 305 for eight.
Fletcher, from Nottingham, is six foot six inches tall and hence towers over Mark Ealham, his partner in an eighth wicket stand of 152. Nottinghamshire, who won the toss on a pitch of no great pace, had collapsed to 147 for seven chiefly through some aggressive bowling by David Griffiths, who has been performance well in Hampshire's second X1, and Sean Ervine. Only Samit Patel, discarded by England but still a forceful, at times imperious batsman, had made a score of note, 41, although he, too, had been dropped - Nic Pothas missing a difficult chance when he had still to score.
Apart from these significant errors - Fletcher was dropped on 27 and 56 by Michael Lumb and Jimmy Adams - Hampshire, badly beaten by Durham in their last match, held some decent catches. Will Jefferson, slashing wildly at Ervine, was well caught right handed by Pothas, who also took a low chance offered by Patel off James Tomlinson. No-one bowled more capably than Imran Tahir, who had Adam Voges leg before, sweeping, and could well have had two leg before appeals go in his favour besides.
Then came Fletcher, who also bowls medium pace and whose previous highest score in four first-class matches was a mere eight not out. Soon, in the words of Peter Walker, the ECB pitch inspector who had driven to the Rose Bowl from Padstow in Cornwall, where he gave the address at Brian Edrich's funeral, he was batting "like Wally Hammond." His half century, off 62 balls, included four fours and three sixes, whereas Ealham was more circumspect, reaching that milestone off 94 balls with seven fours and a six pulled severely off Dominic Cork, whose length left something to be desired.
Tahir, whose deception came through use of his top-spinner rather than making his leg break or googly turn on this bland surface, was twice warned by umpire Rob Bailey for running down the pitch and duly switched to the pavilion end for a while. Still, though, he was treated with disrespect by Fletcher, who both slog-swept and pulled him with an easy pick-up. No wonder he is in Nottinghamshire's side on merit. "I have not seen him bat better than this and he has been our best bowler in our last two championship matches," said Mick Newell, their coach.
It was a question in the closing overs of whether Fletcher would curb his natural attacking intentions, for his maiden century was but a few runs distant. In the circumstances it would have been folly to have done so, for the field was spread and the bowling by now uninspired.
Hampshire, captained by Pothas in Dimitri Mascarenhas' absence, turned to Jimmy Adams' gentle medium pace in an attempt to break an increasingly lengthy partnership, but it was Tahir who did so, bowling Fletcher with a quicker ball. His 92 came off 122 balls and included nine fours and three sixes.