Trent Bridge has welcomed back spectators with a stutter – nothing to do with the Covid protocols or quality of play, but the weather. Just under 16 overs were possible over the first two days of their game County Championship against Worcestershire.
As Saturday morning rolled around, the sky still looked ominous, the threat of rain appeared imminent, and it was to nobody’s surprise that play started half an hour late. You needed to remind yourself that we are approaching the end of May rather than the start of March.
But the home fans were treated to one of the most dominant days of cricket their county have delivered in recent times. Notts piled on the runs, scoring 347 in the day for the loss of only two wickets, before they reduced Worcestershire to 21-5 at one point with Luke Fletcher taking a triple-wicket maiden.
I spoke to some of the spectators outside the ground about how they felt about coming to watch county cricket again. “I came on Thursday, but there was so much rain,” said Terry Storey, who sat with his wife Ella in the Smith Cooper stand. “The thing I am most looking forward to is the chance of seeing a full day’s play.”
This season Nottinghamshire have managed to get themselves out of a slump that saw them go without a County Championship win in two years. Going into this game against fourth-placed Worcestershire they found themselves in second place in Group one, having won two of their five games.
The socially-distanced crowd were safely scattered around the ground like nervous commuters on a station platform.
Followers of county cricket know all too well about the lack of spectators at some games, but today the the crowd was reassuringly large, and the first boundary of the day was met with a familiar applause and the classic murmur of ‘shot’. That first boundary came off the bat of Notts’s Ben Duckett, who dominated the bowling, making 177 not out.
The anticipation of being able to watch live cricket for the first time since 2019 was easy to find among the crowd. “We are really excited to be back,” said Jackie Whittaker, who was sitting with Nigel Stanford. “I have loved cricket for so long, it is just great to be back.”
Some fans even struggled to recall their last game, “To be honest, I can’t really remember what the last match I came too was,” said Jackie. “It was a T20, I remember that, and it was very hot – not like today.” Terry and Ella also only had vague memories of their last visit to Trent Bridge, “It was definitely back in 2019 and we lost, I know that.”
There has been a lot of speculation that people might feel nervous about returning to crowds, but at Trent Bridge those fears were brushed aside. “We aren’t really nervous about coming back in truth, we thought the grounds would be open earlier,” said Ella. “We have all known for a long time that county cricket is the most socially distanced sport you could attend because of the amount of space and lack of spectators,” she said.
The gloomy morning looked like perfect conditions for Worcestershire’s swing bowlers, but Duckett and Lyndon James illuminated Trent Bridge with some brilliant attacking strokes and resolute defence.
As the day went on the weather improved – spectators were able to take off at least one-layer of clothing, possibly two for the very brave, and by the evening Trent Bridge was bathed in glorious sunshine.
Duckett received the warmest ovation of the morning as he went through to his hundred with a sweep off the bowling of Brett D’Oliveira. A reverse-sweep off the next ball and another two balls later was a clear show of intent from the left hander, who brought up his hundred from 126 balls. If the home fans needed any reminding of the joys of watching a batsman on top form, then Duckett gave them just that with his chanceless knock.
“The thing I have really missed about not being able to come and watch county cricket is the relaxing feeling of just being able to switch off from the world outside,” said Peter Davis who watched today’s play from the upper tier of the Radcliffe Road stand.
“I really enjoyed watching the partnership between James and Duckett,” said Peter. “Especially seeing the young lad James starting to look more and more confident.”
The partnership was finally broken in the first over after tea when James top-edged a pull off Daryl Mitchell. He left the crease having made a great impression on the crowd with 78, part of a partnership of 205 with Duckett.
The queue for the club shop (left) was healthy, lots of youngsters who seemed keen on raiding their parent’s wallets for the latest merchandise and equipment. As a cricket fan it was reassuring to see so many children loving the game.
Nottinghamshire captain, Steven Mullaney joined Duckett at the crease after the loss of James and the pair continued in the same aggressive fashion. Mullaney brought up his 50 from only 40 balls, and they reached their 100 partnership after 90 balls.
Mullaney finally took on one challenge too many and edged a bouncer from Josh Tongue through to wicket keeper Ben Cox for a well made 88 and ending his electric partnership with Duckett at 142 off 119 balls.
As the day drew on and Notts kept batting it looked increasingly unlikely that the crowd would get to see England legend Stuart Broad bowl. But the moment Notts passed 400 they declared. The crowd had enjoyed the show and the prospect of seeing superstar Broad was something for fans young and old to savour.
But it was Luke Fletcher, not Broad, who made the first breakthrough, the Bulwell bowler getting the wicket of Jake Libby with just his second ball. The fans joy at the success of their local hero was loud and clear.
The atmosphere in the ground was brilliant as Fletcher called on them to make as much noise as possible. He was on a roll, taking 4-7 and three in the space of one over. Cox did well to leave the hat-trick ball well alone outside his off stump and Fletcher retuned to fine leg to receive the hero’s welcome he deserved.
Worcestershire could barely lay bat on ball as the evening session continued, finishing on 53-6 with Fletcher 5-20
Earlier in the day Jodie had told me: “One of the things I am looking forward to the most is being back in a bit of an atmosphere.” She certainly got that.
By Alex Brinton