COULD JOE Root convert the first innings of what he hopes will be the greatest summer of his cricketing life into a hundred?
The answer arrived at 11.55 on a grey and gloomy Nottingham morning.
Root, who had begun the third day on 56 out of 206-5 in reply to Notts’s first innings score of 408, had advanced to 73 when he fell to a sudden rush of blood.
The England Test captain sashayed down the pitch to left-arm spinner Samit Patel, tried to launch him over the top towards the pavilion and succeeded only in edging to Steven Mullaney, the solitary slip.
It was an ugly dismissal out of keeping with an otherwise attractive innings, and it left Yorkshire 253-7, still six short of avoiding the prospect of being asked to follow-on.
Although that fate was duly averted, with Yorkshire struggling up to 291 before their innings ended 25 minutes before lunch, they conceded a first innings deficit of 117.
All throughout we’ve been inconsistent and Notts have been more ruthless than us, but we can still take something from the match. We just have to bat well and show character.”Andrew Gale
It meant that Nottinghamshire had a cushion on which to build, which they did by reaching 329-5 at the close, Joe Clarke following his first innings century with an undefeated 97.
One fierce drive towards the end from Clarke – who could now be left stranded should Notts declare overnight as they should with a lead of 446 – struck Root a blow on the left hand as he dived at cover.
But although he left the field shortly afterwards, Root sustained no serious damage.
“He just came off to ice it,” said first team coach Andrew Gale. “It was just precautionary really.”
Despite the deficit, Gale is confident that Yorkshire can still take something from the game.
“All throughout we’ve been inconsistent and Notts have been more ruthless than us, but we can still take something from the match,” he said. “We just have to bat well and show character.”
In conditions so gloomy that the floodlights were on from the start of the day, as if it was a midweek fixture at the nearby City Ground or Meadow Lane, Root would have had high hopes of beginning his World Cup/Ashes summer with a three-figure score.
He had made six Championship centuries in 42 fixtures since debuting in the format in 2011, five of them innings of 160 or more, including three double hundreds, emphasising the appetite of a man who is never satisfied simply by reaching three-figures.
How Yorkshire would have wished for something similarly substantial on a good batting pitch for the time of year, one on which Notts’s first innings score might even have been said to be slightly under-par.
But even the best in the business are capable of error, and although Root’s intention to knock Patel out of his rhythm was understandable, the execution, on this occasion, was fatally awry.
Curiously, it was the first of three wickets to fall to the Patel-Mullaney combination in the space of three overs.
For after Jonny Tattersall perished in the day’s fifth over, bowled trying to drive Luke Fletcher back down the ground towards the Radcliffe Road, Patel followed the wicket of Root with that of Matthew Waite and Steve Patterson, who were also caught in the same first slip position trying to defend.
Ben Coad swatted an unbeaten 26, including successive offside sixes off Patel, before Stuart Broad ended the innings by having Duanne Olivier caught behind. For a Yorkshire side who have made no secret of their desire to improve their batting, only Root and Adam Lyth passed 30, the scorecard showing five single-figure scores.
Before a crowd of 1,500 or so, mostly attired in thick winter wear, Notts had 20 minutes to negotiate before lunch, and they lost the wicket of Ben Slater during that time, caught at second slip by Lyth off Coad.
Only one wicket fell in the afternoon, Ben Duckett departing for a fluent 61 when he, too, was caught at second slip by Lyth, this time from a tentative push off Olivier.
There was nothing tentative about much of Duckett’s innings, which showcased his rich natural skill. After scoring 43 in the first innings, on the back of 216 and 82 against Cambridge University at Fenner’s, the left-hander already has 402 first-class runs to his credit this season at an average of 100.50.
The stroke with which he brought up his half-century was particularly audacious, Duckett reverse-sweeping Root to the boundary in the direction of the office block beside the pavilion.
As with Lyth, however, Duckett will know that attractive cameos are not quite enough to gain further England recognition, with both men having ability to burn.
Chris Nash, the 35-year-old who spent 15 years with Sussex before linking up with former coach Peter Moores at Trent Bridge, has outlined his desire to play into his 40s.
He certainly looks like a man with plenty still to offer, anchoring the hosts’ bid to bat Yorkshire out of the match with a patient 75.
After adding 88 with Duckett, Nash compiled 102 for the third-wicket inside 28 overs with Clarke. Nash faced 152 balls and hit 10 boundaries, his innings ending when he pulled Olivier to Root at square-leg when a hundred looked to be his.
Clarke and Mullaney scored quickly near the end, Mullaney taking the lead with 52 from 50 balls before being bowled by Waite.
Waite had Tom Moores caught behind, with Clarke unable to get back on strike.