David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
Nottinghamshire 292 for 9 (Clarke 109, Evison 58*) vs Yorkshire
Nottinghamshire awarded their coach Peter Moores a new three-year contract ahead of their final Championship match with Yorkshire, but could they adorn it by winning the title? The small print on that one took some reading but basically, by the end of the first day, Notts were left with the tensest of overnight situations: they are 292 for 9 against Yorkshire and if they don't reach 300 then their title challenge is as good as over. The score should come with a health warning.
When it came to encouraging a restful night, those eight absent runs did not represent a great scenario for the not-out batters, Joey Evison, who had played with great composure on a green pitch to make his maiden first-class fifty from No. 8, and the last man Dane Paterson, who has so far faced one ball, and who stopped it in a fashion where he might have been hacking a golf ball out of a rabbit burrow. The solution to gaining eight hours' sleep would a generation ago have been six pints in the Trent Bridge Inn, but from what you read it probably amounts now to a relaxation yoga session followed by a sponsored lavender spray on the pillow.
To the despair of Notts supporters, Paterson is on strike in the morning, but as he has got 60 runs this season and has been not out in 11 out of 15 innings, the danger clearly lies at both ends. If they fail, their only hope is draws in the other two games and with fair weather forecast that is highly unlikely.
Moores, incidentally, has done good things at Notts and deserved his new contract, but considering news from the England camp concerning cancelled tours, there was a savage irony that he negotiated it while fears were aired that he might up ship and take a full-time job in Pakistan. Maybe he would have done: he is a resolute sort.
That 300, of course, would just be the first stage in an unlikely chain of events. Nottinghamshire must win and also need an out-of-touch Somerset to resist Warwickshire's grinding mentality with a draw at Edgbaston (chromium is the best metal Notts could hope for, which is hard to grind despite being very brittle) and also need Lancashire to not manage a batting bonus point at Liverpool but to beat Hampshire all the same, which appears to be going reasonably well.
By now, those who love cricket for its esoteric qualities rather than for studies of the Championship table will now be screaming with impatience: 'But what about Joe Clarke?' If you must lose the race for the Championship, why not take comfort in the fact that at the end of the April you hadn't won a Championship match for three years and here you were, in the sunshine, watching a Joe Clarke century whilst pretending you could win the thing?
Clarke's 109 from 204 balls was a sight for sore eyes, because outside white-ball cricket - where he should be in England contention - he has not had a great season for a player of his ability. To be fair, he averages 37 now and has passed 50 eight times (his average is second only to Haseeb Hameed in countering challenging Trent Bridge pitches) but this was the first time he turned 50 into 100.
He reached it in impressive style, though, pulling Ben Coad for six against the first over with the second new ball. It was a rare moment because even when Clarke unfurled the stylish drives that make him such a good watch, he did so with a caution that augered well for his development if it wasn't for the fact that it was September 21. On 93, with one over of the old ball remaining, one wondered if he would go for it against the offspin of Dom Bess, but he pushed a single and it was Evison who cleared the ropes instead.
Clarke was dropped twice by Adam Lyth, who is Yorkshire's trustiest slip fielder, but who put down opportunities off Coad, on 59, and Bess, on 88, that he would normally take while munching fish and chips on Whitby harbour front. But he dominated Yorkshire's new-ball attack, taking 10 of his 16 fours from the pairing of Coad and Matt Fisher, who both lack hostility, perhaps because of repeated injury problems, but who might have been expected to prosper on a pitch of Lincoln Green. Notts' score feels over par - five catches for the wicketkeeper, Harry Duke, were the result not just of a little extra seam and bounce but some morning swing.
As for Yorkshire, their Championship chances disappeared last week. As well as their absent England quartet, they lost Gary Ballance, who was reported as waking up ill, and Duanne Olivier, who was not selected and whose big contract is increasingly questionable.
With their ageing captain, Steve Patterson, also absent with a hamstring injury, Yorkshire looked around for a stand-in skipper and settled on Coad, a captain for the first time. Coad, staggeringly, was their seventh captain of the season across the formats. When Patterson retires there is no obvious successor and whilst the maelstrom around county cricket does not help, that begs a question about Yorkshire's education of their young players.
Andrew Gale, the coach, rallied the troops, by saying: "It's important we don't think the season is done." The great incentive, said Gale, was to qualify for the top two and so reach the Bob Willis Trophy final. The play-off between the top two was a great gesture in Covid times to Willis, not just a great player but a thoroughly good man who died at the end of 2019, but its retention this year just summed up that when it comes to fixture lists cricket administrators only know how to add, not subtract. 'Ignore the fact that you can't win the title and, if you win, you can play for an extra week close to October' did not seem to be a great rallying cry. 'Win, finish third, and we'll give you a week in Ibiza' might have worked better.