Nottinghamshire 268 for 2 (Duckett 116, Slater 111*) v Lancashire
From the moment Ben Slater cover drove his tenth ball of the day to the boundary it was plain that this would be a morning when batting came easy to him. Cricketers treasure such times and loathe wasting them. They know how easy it is to get out when the game is alien or the bowling barely playable. Slater made 471 runs in the County Championship last season, his first with Nottinghamshire after his move from Derbyshire, and a few people thought him a second-tier cricketer promoted above his station. Only a fortnight ago he was on loan at Leicestershire. And now the fours flowed like cream from a jug, ten of them in a 63-ball fifty, three in one Liam Hurt over, accustomed cover drives mixed with perfectly timed punches down the ground.
Maybe the familiarity of the opponents helped a little; most certainly their generosity of length did. Thirteen days ago the on-loan Slater was making 172 against three members of this Lancashire attack at Worcester. He knew the disciplines required when facing Tom Bailey while the left-arm swing bowler Luke Wood was his colleague at Trent Bridge last season. And until lunchtime at least, each ball became little more than the context for the stroke he chose to play. Things were more difficult in the afternoon session; for one thing Dane Vilas's bowlers offered fewer presents. So Slater was grateful for the assistance of Ben Duckett, whose sharp eye and quick hands helped him put on 178 for the second wicket on Nottinghamshire's best day of this season like no other. Both men made hundreds and Duckett's dismissal, leg before to Bailey for 116 three overs before the light closed in, has not altered the shape of the game.
Having chosen to bowl first, Lancashire were in disarray before the shine had left the new ball. Nottinghamshire's openers, Slater and Haseeb Hameed, had 50 runs on the board inside ten overs and the departure of the former Lancashire batsman Hameed, lbw for 22 when trying to work George Balderson to leg in no way disturbed Slater's rhythm. Nottinghamshire took lunch with their score on 107 for 1 and must have known they already had an opportunity to dictate the course of this game.
The cricket became a trifle scrappier in the early afternoon but perhaps it could scarcely have been otherwise. Duckett took the dominant role but his style his busier than the more classical Slater and he is more comfortable manufacturing glides and cuts off a subtly angled bat. Such an approach invites risk. It can even appear rash and the former Northamptonshire batsman had an escape on 27 when he edged Bailey through the left hand of Keaton Jennings at first slip. But mixed in with such scares were the typical small man's pulls and sweeps and the offspinner Liam Livingstone became a frequent sufferer. Duckett reached his fifty off 69 balls and by tea he was 91, thereby trailing Slater by one run despite facing 47 balls fewer. Shortly after the resumption Duckett cover drove a Tom Hartley full toss to the boundary and overtook his partner.
But Slater still got to his century first when a Bailey misfield at cover allowed him to scamper the run he needed. Four balls later Duckett whipped the same unfortunate cricketer to the square-leg boundary to reach his own hundred, his first for Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge. Each batsman congratulated the other although there was no unseemly hugging, a fact which will have pleased James Whitaker, the match referee. Apparently Whitaker is something of a stickler when it comes to vectors of happiness and is as quick to suppress them as the Puritans were to shut the theatres.
Lancashire's players were similarly restrained when they finally took Duckett's wicket, although since the total was 256 there is the alternative explanation that they simply couldn't be arsed making much whoopee. They will, however, take a different view of matters in Hucknall and Welbeck, Sandiacre and Sherwood. There may have been one or two afternoons this season when Nottinghamshire's supporters did not regret their enforced exclusion from Trent Bridge. But they will be sorry to have missed this one, and maybe Slater missed them, too, not least because it prevented him pondering whether one or two of those applauding his century were also doubting his worth less than a year ago.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications