Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
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Worcestershire 436 (Libby 117, Leach 84, Joseph 61, Mitchell 59, Barnard 58, Patterson-White 4-114) drew with Nottinghamshire 276 (Hameed 111, Moores 62, Morris 3-30) and 236 for 0 (Slater 114*, Hameed 114*)
Ed Barnard bowls to Ben Slater. The match in which they are playing will soon be drawn as firmly as Excalibur was fixed in the stone. Yet the contest will soon be of particular interest to statisticians, for all three innings already boast century opening partnerships and Haseeb Hameed will make two hundreds in a game for the second time in his young career.
Hameed and Slater, another centurion, will put on an unbroken 236, thus breaking Nottinghamshire's first-wicket record against Worcestershire, the now-expunged mark of 220 having been set by George Gunn and 'Dodger' Whysall in 1924. But the passage of nearly a century between events is most fitting. No wicket will fall for over a day at New Road and in his two innings Hameed will bat 13 hours 41 minutes and face a total of 635 balls. The latter will set a new record for County Championship matches.
In other worlds brilliant men and women are developing advanced vaccines and wise leaders are reaching tentative agreements about climate change.
But this afternoon, in crystal sunlight at New Road, Ed Barnard bowls to Ben Slater and number crunchers move into helpful overdrive about a deeply drawn cricket match. What can it matter?
For the answer to that question one must consider, as others have done, the wider impact of the past year. Recreation - in part, the act of re-creating valuable experience - has been shown to have a value beyond even our previous conception of that myriad. It has bound us together in the darkest times. Unable to enjoy it in conventional fashion, we have experienced it remotely, thus sustaining the rich sense of community upon which so much else, not least mental health, depends.
And community is what we're preserving in these spectator-free weeks. The doors will be closed for a few weeks yet but the county clubs are available to their supporters in every other way. My colleague David Hopps, no one-eyed optimist he, put it perfectly in a superbly balanced essay written for Wisden Cricket Monthly: "Community and heritage, though, is why county cricket matters… Discover it, nurture it, save it. It has never been more vital."
And county cricket still commands the loyalty of unsuspected thousands of supporters. The live streams and the websites have revealed that. Some Worcestershire loyalists and very many more Nottinghamshire ones would have paid double the usual entry price to watch Hameed and Slater become the first Trent Bridge openers since Tim Robinson and Matthew Dowman in 1995 to share century opening stands in each innings of a game.
There is already speculation as to how big the crowds will be for four-day games when spectators are allowed in on May 20. Those that haven't booked probably needn't bother. After May 16 they can admit 895 spectators here; after June 21 there are hopes of full houses, maybe even for Championship games. Who'd have thought it?
Today, though, neither the efforts of Joe Leach's bowlers nor the occasional eccentricities of a fourth-day pitch were enough to bring Worcestershire a victory. One suspects the teams could have played another dozen hours and not produced a winner on a surface that always promised more help than it delivered. Six of the 12 sessions in this game were wicketless. Stump and bail flashed and flew... infrequently. Batters rarely departed, pensively or otherwise. So we were left to ponder Slater's mercilessness when dealing with short balls and his powers of concentration in making a century on the ground where he revived his career with a 172 for Leicestershire less than a year ago. Loan spells are rarely so pivotal in a player's career.
As for Hameed, the mannerisms remain. Between each delivery there is still the farmer's gentle amble to square leg with the bat balanced, scythe-like, on his shoulder. He is still occasionally inclined to play two shots to every ball, one real and one yet more perfect as the bowler returns to his mark. The trigger movements and technique have undergone small but significant modifications: the slightest of forward presses, for example. More notably, there is more intent to score by angled cuts to third man or glances to fine leg: they are his staple diet when his punches through midwicket or cover drives are not on offer. Most importantly of all, there is trustworthy judgement and a lovely greed for batting.
"Just as we were about to follow-on Ben Duckett told me it was an opportunity to go out and get another century," said Hameed. "Peter Moores said the same not long after but it's a great leveller when you go out there and the scoreboard says "0". Thankfully, though, I was able to start again and go through the processes again. It wasn't overly difficult to focus again because I was disappointed I'd got out in the first innings and I was in the moment as soon as they asked us to go out there again."
And so two of these four days have been about a 24-year-old cricketer rebuilding his career with the sort of studious, attentive batting that some sceptics doubted they'd see again. That enriching sight has taken its place amid timeless pleasures. So much has changed on this ground but the essential aspect remains the same. A couple of diseased trees have had to be felled; nature does not exist to satisfy poets or painters. But the chestnut in front of the marquee remains and stood in young-leafed grace as Hameed and Slater extended their partnership into its fifth, sixth and seventh hours.
And it mattered because county cricket is about the game and everything around the game. This week it has been about listening with agnostic piety to evensong in the cathedral on Wednesday evening, when the choristers gave us George Herbert's "The Call" in the Vaughan Williams setting that was first performed at Worcester during the Three Choirs festival in 1911. It has been about peregrine falcons in the cathedral tower. It has been about Hameed embracing the rich talent he still possesses. It has been about the black pear tree and the damasked tulips in Cripplegate Park. It has been about chilly mornings on Bromwich Parade and gentle dusks with the Malverns fading from view. And it has been about Ed Barnard bowling to Ben Slater in crystal sunlight.
Haseeb Hameed and Ben Slater enrich dour draw with stats for the ages
Twin hundreds for Hameed as Nottinghamshire save the game in glorious fashion
Haseeb Hameed spreads his wings with century but return to full flight can wait
Nottinghamshire opener ends day not-out in follow-on as Worcestershire keep pressing
Worcestershire's tail wags to stretch lead built by Jake Libby, Daryl Mitchell
Joe Leach hits 84 as Nos. 8-11 pile on the runs against Nottinghamshire, who are 99 without loss in reply