Nottinghamshire 282 for 6 (Clarke 59) vs Somerset
Somerset were ecstatic on this Taunton ground a few days ago as they secured a place in Finals Day in the Vitality Blast, but what has become an annual tilt at securing their first Championship title has become a more troubled affair with the news that Lewis Gregory, their key allrounder, will not bowl again this summer because of an injury suffered in the Hundred playing for Trent Rockets. Somerset fans, not exactly enamoured by the competition, will not be placated by the news, conveyed by the county's head coach Jason Kerr, that "the severity of Lewis's injury means his next bowling will either be in the winter or next summer".
But the Championship is back, if a little put-upon, and a competitive September awaits for six of the counties who will now contest the title in a top division assembled after results in the initial three-conference phase. As for the other 12, they will largely be left to their own devices, which is how some of them like it. Sussex are fielding a side with an average age of 19.6 years - perhaps the youngest side in Championship history - which is so developmental it is only one step away from having a coach behind the stumps rather than an umpire to remind them to "play the line" or "hit top of off".
Then there is Surrey, who reported a positive Covid test, duly identified a long list of close contacts and got permission not to travel to Chester-le-Street at all. It would be interesting to know whether such an approach would have been sanctioned if they were in Division One. In Premier League football, matches routinely go ahead despite positive Covid tests and hardly anybody appears to be identified as a close contact, even though footballers don't noticeably stay two metres apart at all times. Covid protocol is not easy, but while it sticks around cricket appears to have much to discuss.
A conference system that had much to commend it in the first stage of the season - providing the illusion, if not the actuality that all 18 teams could win the Championship - could look much less convincing in the next month and it is possible that a season rushing to a climax, with lots at stake, will instead turn out to be largely futile for all but a handful of sides. This in a Championship that is habitually regarded these days by those in authority as a feeder system for England rather than an intrinsically important competition.
Because there is only time to play four rounds in the final stages, a strange solution has been devised whereupon teams don't play the county who were in their own qualifying group, but instead carry forward half the points from their previous two meetings, so pretending that the contest between them has already taken place. This possesses a convenient but dubious logic that suggests those who agreed it need to spend less time in meetings and more time in the fresh air.
In the Hundred, nobody is allowed to know what an over is, in case the intellectual challenge leaves them rushing for the exits, but any committee-room complexity can be heaped upon the Championship watcher from one season to the next. It suited Somerset, who accrued 18.5 points without hitting a ball, not so much Nottinghamshire, who inherited five, even though both counties topped their group.
Such contortions call for a despairing smack of the head - and why ever not because it certainly seemed to work for Liam Patterson-White, whose helmet was clanked by a short ball from Marchant de Lange and who - once he had selected a replacement helmet from a huge kit bag wheeled onto the outfield by Peter Trego, in a mask - produced a counter-attacking knock of great elan. At one stage, the Notts physio popped out to check that he was okay, and he would not have been surprised to learn that Patterson-White thought he was Brian Lara.
Apart from Patterson-White's unbeaten 46 from 38 balls, this was rather a laborious day, fought out in unrelenting gloom - although "laborious" is defined more by the immense effort required on a surface that did not do as much as Somerset anticipated, rather than a sense of it being inordinately dull. "No man ever was glorious who was not laborious," said Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, so as onlookers we could take comfort in that, even if it is now accepted that Franklin did over-egg things a bit.
Much is written about the difficulties for players of transitioning from one format to the other, but the same is true for the spectator, especially the spectator who is quite content to cross formats. A couple of dot balls and it is hard to resist the urge to watch someone cow the ball over the leg-side. Notts had 282 for 6 in 88.4 overs by the close, and after losing the toss, they could commend themselves upon having a good day. Everybody but Ben Duckett, who was a little frisky, tried to adopt a respectable approach, no more strikingly than Tom Moores, who stuck around for 26 not out while he and Patterson-White added an unbroken 74 for the seventh wicket.
Nottinghamshire's innings fizzed initially. Ben Slater cut Jack Brooks' long hop straight to backward point and, after Duckett had then played the shot with more success, he tried instead to pull a ball of similar qualities, by way of variety, and top-edged a catch into the off side.
Sam Northeast is on loan at Notts until the end of the season after his career at Hampshire ended with no T20 cricket and a frank exchange of views. His time at Kent also ended unhappily when he lost the captaincy and, at 31, and with ambitions of England honours rapidly receding, it would be a shame if he did not get five happy, run-scoring years at another county. Notts, not averse to the odd gamble, might be that county and Northeast approached his task diligently until he played across his front pad against Josh Davey.
Joe Clarke's elegant half-century suggested he could expose Somerset's shortcomings, only to be caught at the wicket as he bottom-edged a pull at Tom Abell. The pattern of batsmen getting a start and not going on to a big score continued when Lyndon James edged a decent delivery from Abell, that left him, and Steven Mullaney, on 42, became an lbw victim aiming to work a straight ball to leg. At 208 for 6, with the new ball imminent, Somerset had a chance to wrest control, but Patterson-White took three fours off de Lange to win that personal battle and give Nottinghamshire a slight edge by the close.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps