Second hundred of season drives Worcestershire but Luke Fletcher keeps Notts competitive
Worcestershire 305 for 7 (Libby 117, Mitchell 59) vs Nottinghamshire
There are times when one thinks no cricket ground could carry the weight of emotion that is borne each April by New Road. Flooded in many Februarys, it emerges on mornings like this, sparkling in Springtime, a testament to hours of labour on bleak days. In drier years, broadsheet editors hoped the season would begin here, for then they could dispatch their photographers to Worcester, comfortable in the knowledge that their back pages would feature sweatered cricketers against the backcloth of the cathedral. And a scene already laden with connotation and symbol was further enhanced today when some marvellous sport was fittingly enriched by Jake Libby and Luke Fletcher, two of the county game’s very many good guys.
Libby dominated the first half of our cricket and made his second century in four innings, thereby bringing his aggregate for this immature campaign to 318 runs. Until Ed Barnard and Alzarri Joseph put on an unbroken 89 for Worcestershire’s eighth wicket in the final 100 minutes or so of the evening, the former Nottinghamshire opener’s batting had done most to determine the early shape of this contest.
Libby’s cuts and drives had been firm and well-chosen and his leaving the ball was particularly judicious. Nothing expressed his superiority more clearly than the manner with which he reached his hundred after nearly four hours’ batting. That came when Dane Paterson, Nottinghamshire’s South African seamer, attempted an ill-advised bouncer. Instead of being hard and potent, though, the delivery was limp and useless: a clear case of projectile dysfunction. Libby heaved the ball over square leg for six and clenched his fist, a shade ostentatiously, perhaps.
At Chelmsford nearly a fortnight ago Libby made 180 and was at the crease for longer than it takes the traffic-jams to clear in that city. The first-class season has now occupied nine days and he has batted for nearly three of them. But while Libby will have taken pleasure from the fact that this hundred was scored against his former colleagues at Trent Bridge, one rather doubts he gloated over the matter. And in any case his innings of 117 was countered by Fletcher, another of the English game’s noble servants, who bowled tightly, took two good wickets, including Libby’s, and pulled off a run-out that will surely feature when Steven Mullaney’s players hold their Christmas party.
Fletcher’s value to his team’s attack had been plain well before he enjoyed obvious success. While the other Nottinghamshire bowlers were conceding more than 3.5 runs an over, Fletcher was leaking barely a single. It was, therefore, simple justice that he took the first wicket when Daryl Mitchell drove at a wideish ball ten minutes after lunch but merely feathered a catch to Tom Moores, who was standing up to the stumps, thereby chaining Mitchell to the crease.
Nottinghamshire’s need for a breakthrough was becoming desperate; Libby and Mitchell had put on 140 for their side’s first wicket. Home supporters watching on the live stream will have enjoyed the opening overs when the pair’s cover-drives and cuts ran to the off side boundaries and Mullaney had been forced to post only a single slip after 16 overs. Until Fletcher intervened, distant spectators had been offered the prospect of grand consumption, one that recalled the salad eras of Cyril Walters and Don Kenyon on this ground.
Instead, Fletcher’s removal of Mitchell for a well-made 59 began Nottinghamshire’s best period of the day. Almost immediately Tom Fell was leg before when he overbalanced while trying to clip a ball from Zak Chappell to leg. Then Gareth Roderick groped rather stiffly at a wideish delivery from Paterson. But that most conventional of dismissals, an edge to the keeper, was followed by a quite extraordinary one as the formidably proportioned Fletcher ran out Brett D’Oliveira for 3 when the batsman hesitated over an achievable single and was beaten by a direct hit from backward point. Fletcher’s reaction when he saw Russell Warren’s finger raised was to hold his arms aloft in triumph and gallop madly towards the cathedral. Perhaps he thought God would like to exchange a few high-fives with an equal; certainly there was something miraculous about the event.
Worcestershire lost their fifth wicket as the Earl Grey was brewing when their slow left-armer, Liam Patterson-White, produced a beauty that turned and hit the top of Riki Wessels’ off stump. Ten minutes into the evening Libby nibbled at a ball he didn’t have to play and Moores completed the catch. But any thought that Nottinghamshire might have to bat tonight on a wicket that is already taking spin was dispelled by Barnard and Joseph, whose partnership offered something of a gentle epilogue to this rich day. Both batsmen resisted any temptation towards wanton aggression, instead settling for careful accumulation in the sunlight. Once again one’s eye was taken by the towered tracery of the cathedral, the improbable beauty of the setting, the familiar things at Worcester of which one never tires. The Ladies’ Pavilion remains closed, of course, but we still had cake for tea.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications