FLOODLIGHTS shining bright. Spectators wrapped in thick winter coats. Steam rising from tea and coffee poured from Thermos flasks in the stands. People rubbing their hands together and stamping their feet to protect themselves from the penetrating cold.
We could have been at the City Ground on the other side of the Radcliffe Road watching Nottingham Forest on a freezing winter’s day.
Instead we were watching Nottinghamshire versus Yorkshire at Trent Bridge, where the prevailing conditions at the start of the match were more evocative of the football season.
Those conditions explained why Andrew Gale – in his first act as captain after returning from suspension following his verbal spat last summer with Lancashire’s Ashwell Prince – sent Nottinghamshire into bat after winning the toss.
It seemed a sensible move, one based on the sombre skies and the probability that a bowling attack containing such as Tim Bresnan, Jack Brooks and Steve Patterson would thrive by the banks of the Trent.
But the script does not always go to plan, and so it proved as a side among the fancied pretenders to Yorkshire’s crown proceeded to a total of 393-7 which, had it been offered at the start of play, would have been snapped up with something more than enthusiasm.
An already tricky-looking fixture for a Yorkshire team missing seven players (six to England and the injured Ryan Sidebottom) thus became trickier as Nottinghamshire took control at the ground where Yorkshire thrashed them by an innings last September to clinch the Championship.
This time, the only Champagne memories came from the bat of Alex Hales, who scored a career-best 222 not out, eclipsing his previous high of 184 against Somerset at Trent Bridge in 2011. Widely perceived as a one-day specialist, Hales proved he is so much more as he tore into an attack which, even accounting for absences, delivered a forgettable display.
Granted, there were some good moments – there always are – but Yorkshire would not have expected their hosts to proceed so freely, and it would have been worse had Jack Brooks not taken two wickets in four balls just before tea when James Taylor was lbw and Samit Patel caught at first slip which threatened a slowing, if not a shift, in the balance of power.
On a day when Yorkshire president Dickie Bird turned 82 and first-team coach Jason Gillespie turned 40, Yorkshire, in fact, had little to celebrate.
They bowled too short in the morning, enabling Nottinghamshire to start confidently as openers Steven Mullany and Brendan Taylor negotiated the first 45 minutes before Patterson trapped Mullaney lbw.
The new ball pair of Bresnan and Brooks had gone wicketless and it needed the introduction of Matthew Fisher, the sixth-youngest Championship debutant in Yorkshire’s history aged 17 years and 161 days, to prise a second wicket half-an-hour before lunch.
With his seventh ball, Fisher, bowling from the Pavilion End in an excitable whirl of arms and legs, had Taylor caught by Alex Lees at first slip from a loose drive.
It was a terrific moment for the teenager, and although he suffered as much as anyone during the long afternoon, he also looked as likely as any of his more vaunted colleagues to take a wicket.
Yorkshire, who chose Fisher instead of going with a frontline spinner in Karl Carver, were taken down after lunch by Hales and James Taylor, whose batting was as radiant as the sunshine which occasionally permeated the default cloud cover.
With minimum fuss, they feasted on anything remotely awry during a superb stand of 171 in 36 overs. Hales drove, clipped, cut and occasionally brutalised the bowling, while Taylor gave him the most polished and professional support, furnishing him with as much strike as possible en route to a well-crafted 59.
Most impressive was the way Hales attacked the part-time off-spin of Jack Leaning, forcing him out of the attack after three wicketless overs went for 28, depriving Gale of a useful option.
Hales launched one ball from the off-spinner high over long-off into the Radcliffe Road Stand and, after reaching his 50 from 93 balls, he needed only another 38 deliveries to record his 10th first-class hundred.
Hales had the occasional slice of luck – there was a top-edge off Brooks that flew just over the wicketkeeper, an edge off Fisher that Leaning perhaps got a finger on at second slip, and a possible catch off Patterson to Will Rhodes at mid-on, who seemed not to pick it up. Otherwise, it was a superlative exhibition.
After scoring 176 in the afternoon session, Nottinghamshire were less expansive during an evening in which they lost Riki Wessels to a catch at second slip by Leaning off Rhodes, Chris Read lbw to Bresnan with the second new ball, and Will Gidman to a catch at first slip by Lees off Patterson in the final over.
The day, however, belonged to Hales, who reached his double hundred with a square-driven four off Bresnan towards the Bridgford Road.