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RESULT
Nottingham, May 18 - 21, 2023, County Championship Division One
298 & 362/8d
(T:219) 442 & 97/4

Match drawn

Report

Alastair Cook shapes to save match for Essex with unbeaten 87

Former England captain does what he's been doing for two decades to counter Matthew Montgomery's 177

Paul Edwards
Paul Edwards
20-May-2023
Alastair Cook on the sweep, Nottinghamshire vs Essex, County Championship, Division One, Trent Bridge, May 18, 2023

Alastair Cook put on a potentially match-saving 87 not out  •  Getty Images

Essex 298 and 199 for 1 (Cook 87*, Westley 70*) lead Nottinghamshire 442 (Montgomery 177, Slater 57, Clarke 57, Critchley 3-33, S Cook 3-58) by 55 runs
Nottingham on the third Saturday morning in May. Green buses - 4, 6 and 9 - proud and prompt to the minute, rumble over the Trent Bridge, where the inn has been trading for hours. There is a quiet busyness about the streets, an air of incipience.
So it seemed on this leisured day when the East Midlands began to take leave of spring. Canyoned clouds drifted against a silver-blue sky and the shorts worn on the middle terrace at the Radcliffe Road End suggested more than a mulish determination to spite the climate.
Red shirts flecked the white-painted stands inside the cricket ground. We were near the very last hurrah of the football season - and therefore five minutes away from the very first hurrah of the next. Some folk were taking in a few hours' cricket before going to the City Ground, where mighty Arsenal were the visitors. In the streets around Colwick Road the fast food joints were setting up for a lively afternoon and evening. Fat and fat profits.
And amid this activity, this skelter to capture the moment, a tall, slim figure would also soon be going about his business, which was that of scoring runs and saving a game either for Essex or England. It is what Alastair Cook has been doing for two decades now and it still brings him satisfaction.
His batting today was certainly not without fault; he was put down twice in the slips before he'd reached 30, though neither chance was easy, and he sometimes seemed in a tangle when Liam Patterson-White bowled into the footholes. But he is 87 not out and if the job of saving the game has not yet been done with ease, the loss of Nick Browne, leg before to Lyndon James, is the only damage suffered.
And in a way, Cook's achievement in the second innings was the more admirable because he was less fluent today than when he made 72 on Thursday. Only 12 of his first 37 runs came in boundaries and two of those cover-driven fours off Dane Paterson sandwiched a fiery chance to second slip where Calvin Harrison, both hands above his head, could not cling on. Otherwise, there were the jabs down that gave Cook singles to backward point and the little deflections to the on side that gave him a few more. His fifth four, a drive through cover-point, brought him to his 122nd first-class fifty, although only his third at Trent Bridge. The achievement drew applause but the stroke was played against the growing tumult on the Radcliffe Road, where another crowd grew and steamed and prepared for manic partisanship.
Even though he knows to celebrate, Alastair Cook does not do manic. Excitable is a rarely allowed indulgence. He takes the tiny defeats that come along in most long innings and is thankful one of them has not sent him back to the pavilion. In company with his captain, Tom Westley, with whom he had put on an unbroken 137 by close of play, he wore Nottinghamshire's bowlers down on the third evening of this game and thereby exposed the inadequacy of his own side's 298 in the first innings.
Steven Mullaney's fields became funky and merely hopeful: two short-midwickets, one short-cover and no slip to Westley, who ended the day with a pleasant unbeaten 70 of his own. Stuart Broad and Ben Hutton, whom one might have thought two of their side's biggest threats, bowled eight overs apiece. It will take a lot for either side to win this game tomorrow and there is no need for a contrived finish. There is though, the probability that Cook will make a century on this ground for the first time in his career. It will be another tick on a career record that is littered with them.
And maybe we had an inkling how things might go during a morning of brief appearances and carefree strokeplay, a curious counterpoint to all that Cook represents. None of the last six in Nottinghamshire's order batted longer than Patterson-White, who stodged around for 51 minutes before a crabbed poke, neither Catholic nor Protestant, edged a catch to Simon Harmer at slip off Jamie Porter. By contrast, Jamie Harrison hit seven varied boundaries in his 36-ball 31 and everyone else showed willing, especially Stuart Broad, who wiped Harmer towards West Bridgford for a six and a four before Matt Critchley picked up the last of his three cheap wickets.
At the other end, Matthew Montgomery batted with all the confidence of a chap who looks up at the scoreboard before play starts and sees three figures against his name. Montgomery stroked six more boundaries today before falling leg before when attempting to reverse-sweep a full-length ball from Critchley. He was one short of his career-best 178 but one doubts he'll need counselling.

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications

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County Championship Division One

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