Matthew Montgomery drives Essex to drink as Notts take command at Trent Bridge

Matthew Montgomery drives Essex to drink as Notts take command at Trent Bridge

Nottinghamshire 326 for 5 (Montgomery 130*, Slater 57, Clarke 57; S Cook 3-51) lead Essex 298 by 28 runs

One way of assessing whether cricket matters to a place is to consider how many businesses surrounding a county ground maintain close connections with the game. One is thinking of serious immersion here rather than namecheck association. After all, many towns with a thriving cricket club have a pub named The Cricketers, but Trent Bridge now has two inns, The William Gunn and The Larwood and Voce, whose connection is plain only to the initiated.

At lunch and teatime on the second day of this match, it was more likely to be Essex supporters who were seeking balm from the electric soups sold at these hostelries. For having watched Sam Cook remove Haseeb Hameed in the fourth over of the morning, they had then seen their wicketkeeper and slips put down three chances, errors that had left Nottinghamshire pleasantly placed on 102 for 1 at the first interval.

The precise cost of these errors was unclear at lunch. By tea, however, although Ben Slater had been dismissed for 57, Matthew Montgomery was still there on 73. And at close of play, it was Nottinghamshire supporters who were drinking the health of Montgomery after the 23-year-old had recorded his maiden Division One hundred and guided his side to the prosperity of 326 for 5, a lead of 28 with promise of more on Saturday. Not even the dismissal of Steven Mullaney, leg before to Doug Bracewell in the final over of the evening, could knock the head off their pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.

But this was Montgomery’s day and it was all too easy in the glow of his unbeaten 130 to reflect on that crucial first hour of the day when Essex’s errors had helped determine the shape of what followed. The biggest offender, in more ways than one, was Adam Rossington, who dropped Montgomery on nought and 4 off Shane Snater when he failed to cling on to diving catches to his right.

The second of these drops was more noticeable – Alastair Cook might well have taken it had not the keeper intervened – but the first, when the keeper scarcely touched the ball, illustrated Rossington’s current limitations more clearly. Soon afterwards, Slater should have gone for 50, but Alastair Cook dropped the chance off Bracewell. “Regulation” some called it although it’s never quite clear in such cases what regulation is being observed or breached.

Simon Harmer’s off-spin was introduced in the 24th over of the morning but rather than being asked to turn the screw, Harmer came on with Essex still looking for the screwdriver. Unusually, the best slow bowler in the English game could not help them find it. Instead, he was swept and reverse-swept by Montgomery in the morning session before being powered down the ground by Joe Clarke in the afternoon.

By that point, Slater had been removed when he fenced at a ball from Sam Cook and nicked a catch to Rossington, whose acceptance of the chance was probably aided by the fact that the ball went straight to him. This, though, was the sort of day coaches appreciate, when a succession of partnerships builds a substantial lead, and whereas the opener had become a little becalmed on another windless day, Clarke approached matters more briskly, cover-driving Bracewell and easing Jamie Porter through point when barely seeming to hit the ball at all. Then, having reminded us why he might have played for England a couple of summers ago, the ex-Worcestershire batsman showed us why he never did so by attempting to hit Matt Critchley’s leg spin over wide mid-on but only skewing a skied catch to Jamie Porter at mid-off.

Instead of sparking a fall of wickets in one of the cricketers’ beloved clumps, that wicket was merely the prelude to tea and, less than an hour later, the moment of Montgomery’s century when an involuntary inside-edge brought him both the jammiest of his 20 fours and the prize he most coveted after 194 balls of patient accumulation. Essex still had the new ball to call on but Tom Westley’s bowlers seemed to lack their collective edge this overcast Friday and by the time they took the wicket of Lyndon James for 28 he and Montgomery has shared their side’s third fifty-plus stand. Nottinghamshire have power to add one or two more on Saturday, when this game’s shape will become clear and the Trent Bridge Inn will be packed tight with football supporters at tea-time.

Tomorrow morning, though, the pub most associated with the county’s cricket will open at eight o’clock, just as it does every day, and it won’t be long thereafter before the place is dotted with green and gold shirts, most of them sported by supporters in need of breakfast rather than the bleak, double-edged comfort of sharpeners.

The pub is part of a rather unpopular chain but to my eyes it hasn’t changed that much since a group of us arrived there for the first time some decades ago offering an impressive impression of thirst-maddened cattle. The walls of the place are covered with pictures of cricketers, some of them stretching back deep into the 19th century, and there could be no better way to begin a day at the cricket than by tucking into eggs benedict and coffee – free refills – surrounded by Old Clarke, George Parr and Arthur Carr.

For other supporters, Andy Warhol’s thoughts on stardom and celebrity are just about right. “Michael Holding? It’s not a name to me,” said a fellow in Notts livery this morning. Nine hours later, he was probably applauding Matthew Montgomery, a truly famous cricketer.

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications

(With Inputs from ESPN)

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