Worcestershire 297 for 7 (Roderick 91*, D'Oliveira 85, Ball 3-41) vs Nottinghamshire
At once elegiac and urgent, September's cricket suits the benign deceptions of autumn. For some players and nearly half the first-class counties, the shape of their seasons is clear. All that is left is personal pride and the hope of taking a couple of victories into the winter. For other cricketers, Nottinghamshire's amongst them, there is the prospect of glory and the achievement of ambitions nursed since November.
Steven Mullaney's team began this match needing ten points to guarantee promotion and 22 to win the Second Division outright, so it was only to be expected that Mullaney would ask Worcestershire to bat on a morning when a pale sun did nothing to pacify a greenish New Road pitch. And nor was one taken aback when Nottinghamshire's seamers took five wickets in the morning session, thus leaving their side well-placed to establish a match-shaping advantage. This, though, is the chameleon season. It begins with summer's generosity before ending in grasping darkness. "In the edges of days, in the confluence of tides, in the unclear lapping and lap-backing of the between-seasons is autumn," wrote Horatio Clare. "It can be obvious, a salute of blazing foliage, or disguised, slipping in behind distractions."
Nottinghamshire's advantage was obvious enough when the afternoon session began but it would be more than four hours before they enjoyed another success and by the time Brett D'Oliveira's attempted drive gave Jake Ball his third wicket and Tom Moores his third catch the nature of this day had changed utterly. D'Oliveira's 85, his first score over fifty in red-ball cricket since June, and his 169-run stand for the sixth-wicket with Gareth Roderick had shown us this would be a very different match from that which Mullaney's bowlers surely envisaged during a morning in which they were hungry, their slips were ravenous and the outfielders were chasing down balls as though their October golf depended on it.
There was nothing fortuitous about Worcestershire's recovery. The fall of Ed Barnard to the ball before lunch might have prepared home supporters for further reverses in the afternoon but D'Oliveira and Roderick had none of it. They played themselves back in, adjusted to the easing conditions and before long Roderick was easing the ball through the leg side while D'Oliveira shaped his drives or cuts through point. Liam Patterson-White bowled his slow left-arm tightly albeit without great threat and it said something about the changing balance of the innings that Mullaney needed a spinner at all.
Though Patterson-White extracted more lift from the New Road pitch than the batsmen appeared to expect, nothing disturbed the Worcestershire pair and one noticed with a start that the home side had collected a second bonus point before their visitors. Mullaney took the second new ball he surely thought he wouldn't require and gained rapid dividends, first with the dismissal of D'Oliveira and then when Brett Hutton had Matthew Waite lbw for 5.
But the evening ended with Roderick unbeaten on 91 and New Road resplendent in the golden light of a late autumn afternoon. Such an conclusion seemed absurdly unlikely when one recalled a morning when the sun was barely apparent and there was a hint of amber in the trees on Bromwich Parade. It was a bowlers' day for all money and one doubts Mullaney hesitated long before placing a wager on his seamers. They offered early returns, too.
Ed Pollock tried to get off the mark with a massive drive at a wide delivery from Ball but only inside-edged the ball onto his off stump. Two overs later, Ball took his second wicket when Azhar Ali feathered a lifting delivery to Moores two balls after collecting his only boundary with a nick through the slips. Half an hour later, Dane Paterson brought one back off the pitch and collected his 50th wicket of the season when the ball thumped into Jake Libby's pad.
Worcestershire's batsmen struggled on, often by tickling the ball to the unoccupied fine-leg boundary. The only member of top order not to need that resource was Jack Haynes, whose cover-drives off Ball and Paterson were the most felicitous of the session. But having hit five boundaries in his 38, Haynes came half-forward to Mullaney's fourth ball of the morning and was well caught by Moores, who was standing up. Having been inserted, D'Oliveira might have accepted 99 for 4 at lunch but Barnard's defensive shot to Paterson's last possible ball of the morning edged a catch to Matthew Montgomery at second slip. A few Worcestershire supporters lunched gloomily, little guessing the late-season riches that were to follow.