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Nottinghamshire prevail in morning of 12-wicket madness

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Nottinghamshire 222 (Bailey 3-26, Livingstone 3-27, Mennie 3-46) and 10 for 4 (Mennie 3-4) beat Lancashire 158 (Ball 5-43) and 73 (Gurney 6-25, Ball 4-14) by six wickets

It was a morning when batsmen came and went like leaders of UKIP; a morning when the rapidity of events boggled the scrambled mind and outstripped the scribbling pen; a morning when 12 wickets fell in exactly 15 overs, Lancashire losing their last eight for 15 runs. Then Nottinghamshire leaked another four in scoring the mere ten runs they required to give Steven Mullaney a six-wicket victory on his championship debut as skipper.

But when this ridiculous game leaves its marbles in the changing room, it is important to identify a moment of calm brilliance which encapsulates the hurtling sequence of events. In the sixth over of the morning Jake Ball bowled a ball to Steven Croft which pitched somewhere near the line of middle stump before hitting the top of off. The blameless batsman strolled away, perhaps thinking that if a cricketer has been born who can play those, he would like to congratulate his or her parents on their genes.

During the winter Ball was presented with the shortest of straws by England; he was asked to bowl it short when his strength is pitching it up. Today on a wicket which was always softer, colder and damper than it looked, Ball dismissed three more batsmen to finish the innings with 4 for 14 and the match with 9 for 57. Twice in eight balls he was driven to the boundary by Liam Livingstone; undaunted he stuck to his craft, pitched it up again and saw the Lancashire skipper edge a catch to Tom Moores when attempting another booming drive.

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But by the time Lancashire’s new captain was dismissed, the good ship Red Rose was already capsizing. It had been holed as early as the third ball of the morning when Keaton Jennings played a milksop of a leg-side push to a straight ball from Harry Gurney. Umpire Graham Lloyd did not have to think too long about the leg before. Next over Shivnarine Chanderpaul, a man who is well used to batting across geological eras, could not get over a ball from the excellent Gurney and was taken at slip by Ross Taylor.

Then Livingstone departed; then Croft. 66 for 6. There was much harrumphing and a modicum of hoping in the Old Trafford pavilion but the lower order could do nothing to halt the slide. Nottinghamshire’s slip catching was outstanding, as Jordan Clark and Dane Vilas discovered, when Chris Nash and Riki Wessels scooped up chances. Gurney finished with a career-best 6 for 25 in the innings and 8 for 43 in the match. Eight batsmen had been dismissed in ten overs this morning and Lancashire had lost all ten second-innings wickets for 24 runs.

“Extraordinary is probably the right word for it,” agreed the Nottinghamshire coach Peter Moores. “It was an outstanding hour of cricket by us. The quality of the bowling and catching was absolutely fantastic. Harry Gurney bowled brilliantly all game and Jake Ball did what Jake Ball can do. If he wanted to make a statement in the first game of the county championship season then he’s done it.”

But still we were not done with madness. Presented with an opportunity to lead his side home in sober fashion, Mullaney hooked the seventh ball of the innings to Graham Onions at long leg. Two overs later, Joe Mennie struck again when Nash was hustled for pace and Haseeb Hameed scampered back from slip to take a brilliant diving snare some forty yards from the stumps. More conventional efforts by Livingstone removed Jake Libby and Taylor. Some folk jested that ten runs might be too stiff a target. As it turns out it is the lowest total ever successfully chased when losing four wickets. But you knew that anyway.

The game ended when Riki Wessels nudged a single backward of square on the leg side. It was almost the only mundane moment of the day. The two sides lined up to shake hands; it is cricket’s answer to line-dancing. One thought of the two skippers trying to cope with the aftermath of mayhem. There is an enormous difference between the idea of doing a thing and actually doing it. The former is a diverting notion whereas the latter is often hard work. When invited to captain their respective counties Livingstone and Mullaney were no doubt attracted by the prospects. They have now discovered what leadership is like when Dame Cricket takes a hand. They had better get used to the glorious madhouse.

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