Nottinghamshire 408 and 329 for 5 (Clarke 97*, Nash 75, Duckett 61, Mullaney 52) lead Yorkshire 291 (Root 73, Patel 3-31) by 446 runs
Two centuries on debut for his new county would be quite a way for Joe Clarke to begin life at Nottinghamshire. But he will not know until the final morning if that opportunity will present itself. He finished the third day against Yorkshire at Trent Bridge on 97 not out and with Nottinghamshire already holding a lead of 446, and clearly planning an overnight declaration, it would be perfectly permissible to pull the innings without a second thought.
At 22 years and 316 days he is in touching distance of becoming the youngest batsman to score two hundreds in a match for Nottinghamshire.
As he knows he must be, he was philosophical about the outcome. “They said they’ll think about it in the morning – what happens happens,” he shrugged, knowing that the only dignified response was for him to put team ahead of individual feats.
The decision rests with his captain, Steven Mullaney. An extra over or two does not sound much, but captains have nightmares about allowing such a liberty and the opposition being nine down at the end. Team ethic is a precious thing, so is team morale. Michael Atherton once declared an England innings in the 1994-95 Ashes series with Graeme Hick two runs short of his first Ashes hundred – and that was not even at the end of the day. That didn’t go down well.
Clarke’s debut has already been lustrous enough. He has played sublimely, typically stylish through the offside. His unbeaten 97 came from only 125 balls and followed 112 in the first innings. Nottinghamshire have so far looked a class above. They established a first-innings lead of 117 before lunch on the third day and then batted again with great contentment, amassing a further 329 for 5 at an indecent rate of 4.70. With the floodlights slicing through a cold April evening, Clarke took single off the first ball of the final over from the part-time offspinner Adam Lyth only for Samit Patel to hack at the rest of the over without getting him back on strike.
Three batsmen joined Clarke in passing 50: a free-spirited contribution from Ben Duckett, who reverse-swept Joe Root for four to reach his fifty and who already has more than 400 first-class runs this season; a punchy 75 from Chris Nash, before Yorkshire were finally trampled into the dirt by Mullaney’s hearty 48-ball effort. Nothing was more dismissive than his straight six late in the day against the medium pace of Matthew Waite.
Duckett flirted with second slip before Duanne Olivier had him caught in that fashion. Nash mistimed a pull at the same bowler. Mullaney eventually dragged another delivery from Waite into his stumps.
On a Facebook group proclaiming the delights of the Yorkshire Dales (prospective incomers greeted with suspicion so best to say nowt else) the Broad Acres looked at their most resplendent. Blue skies shone over Clapham and Arncliffe, refreshing dips were taken in the Foss at Stainforth Force and lambs took their first uncertain steps into the world. The sort of glory that would have persuaded the old curmudgeon Philip Larkin to take off his bicycle clips in reverence, had he not saved that for Church Going instead.
Few things fill Yorkshire folk with exaltation more than the scenery of the Dales. Yorkshire cricket perhaps. But on the evidence of the first three days at Trent Bridge, it might be best to get some rain repellent on the walking boots. It’s very early days, but against a strong side Yorkshire have been dipping their shoulder into the wind.
Yorkshire’s coach, Andrew Gale, was left to assert that his side were capable of batting through the final day. They will be relieved (as will England) that they will have the services of Root, who caused brief alarm late in the day when he injured a finger on his left hand, diving to stop a cover drive from Clarke. No lasting damage, no thoughts of a scan, was the gist of Gale’s assessment after medical staff had made a few precautionary checks.
Their attack – four right-arm seamers and some fill-in offspin from Root – looked predictable. They have three quicks, Matthew Fisher, David Willey and Tim Bresnan, missing here, but much onus rests with their newly signed South African Duanne Olivier. On Monday, an early judgment will be made about the quality of their batting.