David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
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Nottinghamshire 323 (Mullaney 117, James 51, Snater 7-98) beat Essex 99 (Browne 53, Fletcher 6-24) and 194 (Browne 64, James 4-51) by an innings and 30 runs
Essex's Championship defence is running aground. In Somerset and Yorkshire, the two counties most fancied to raise a challenge, anticipation will be growing that this could be their year. They now have one win in five and their second defeat of the season - by an innings and 30 runs against Nottinghamshire - will demand an urgent assessment of why their season is going awry.
Even the convenience of a third day lost to heavy rain did not allow Essex to give the slightest indication that they might save the game. They trailed by 95 at the start of play, with seven wickets remaining, and would have needed to bat until tea or thereabouts. Instead, they capitulated on the stroke of one o'clock. With half their group games spent they lie second bottom and need a quick response.
Dismissed for 99 on a Trent Bridge greentop in the first innings, they lost their last seven wickets for 38. Faced again by encouraging bowling conditions (how could it be otherwise after Saturday's deluge?), their last six second-innings wickets fell for 29. There is a lot of onus on their top four to fire and, in this game, Tom Westley and Dan Lawrence failed in both innings.
How quickly perceptions can change. Little more than week ago, Nottinghamshire were easy to depict as the county that had tried and failed to buy their way out of decline. But they won at the 31st time of asking, shouldering aside Derbyshire by an innings, and have followed that up by thrashing the champions by an innings.
They now top Group One and, although they are surely the Katy Perry of the Championship - "You're hot then you're cold, you're yes then you're no, you're in then you're out, you're up then you're down" - they might just surprise everyone for qualifying for the top group with a top-two finish.
They even had a homegrown player at the heart of their victory. Lyndon James, a willowy allrounder with close-cropped fair hair, followed up a maiden first-class 50 in Notts' first-innings with career-best bowling figures of 4 for 51, and 6 for 54 in the match. A product of Caythorpe in the Notts Premier League, he will help lift the reputation of a Notts academy that has often invited criticism in recent seasons.
With bat and ball, James looked to be a thoughtful cricketer, and indeed had a season as Notts' 2nd XI captain. He glided to the crease and swung the ball at the high end of medium pace. Notts have not been entirely sure how to get him into the side, but it is in the middle order where he gives them a better balance, allowing them to pick a spinner as well as lighten the bowling load on the captain, Steven Mullaney.
The most striking attribute about Notts' bowling performance, though, was not the individual but the collective. Their consistency never gave Essex an outlet, and the other batter who did resist for any length of time, Paul Walter, was rendered almost strokeless as his 30 encompassed 106 balls.
It soon became apparent that after the deluge, and on a warmer but still cloudy morning, the bowlers would still prosper. Nevertheless, Notts needed early proof of that in the wickets column and Fletcher, who took a couple of overs to find his range, provided it by having Nick Browne caught at the wicket with one that left him.
Browne, with two half-centuries in the match, scored 43% of Essex's runs off the bat. With his departure, the dam had been breached. Four wickets fell for nine runs in 25 balls, three of them to James.
He began with a double wicket maiden. Ryan ten Doeschate, who invites an lbw, fell to a big inducker and Adam Wheater was bowled through the gate, driving, second ball, hardly the show of resolve that Essex needed. Walter's obduracy was then ended by a fast catch to his left, at second slip, by Ben Duckett.
James had enjoyed a rewarding Championship debut against Essex in 2018 and now he had visions of his first five-wicket haul, only for Haseeb Hameed to drop Peter Siddle at third slip.
When Siddle was ninth out, the second new ball was due and Stuart Broad was meaningfully hanging around the stumps as if he quite fancied bowling with it. Mullaney, astutely, allowed James two more overs to get his maiden five-for, but it was not to be and back-slaps at the end of his spell did not dissuade him from a frustrated grimace and scuff of the turf.
Lyndon James at heart of big Nottinghamshire win as Essex's campaign runs aground
Homegrown James takes career-best figures as defending champions lose by an innings and 30 runs
Alastair Cook may rue lean Trent Bridge harvest as Steven Mullaney makes hay
Mullaney's century keeps Nottinghamshire ahead of Essex before dire Saturday weather forecast