Somerset 28 for 2 trail Nottinghamshire (Duckett 75, Hameed 65, Gregory 7-84) by 228 runs
Back injury healed; fracture recurring. Such has been the story of Lewis Gregory’s bowling career. It has become such a dispiriting routine that it was no wonder he often chooses to describe himself as a batting allrounder. But everything came right on a bowlers’ day at Trent Bridge as he returned career-best figures of seven for 84 that were a reward for years of perseverance.
That bowlers’ day took time to reveal itself. When Gregory struck for the first time, Nottinghamshire were 164 for 1 with Ben Duckett and Haseeb Hameed, with varying degrees of fortune, helping themselves to surprisingly easy early-season runs on a cheerless April day.
As Gregory struggled through the first part of the day, returning eight fairly pedestrian overs for 33, it was tempting to bemoan his back issues that have helped to limit him to 12 England appearances in limited-overs formats. But after a short rain stoppage soon after lunch, batting never felt as secure again. He began to release the shackles a little, manipulate the ball both ways and Nottinghamshire finally paid for their indiscretions, five wickets falling for 33 in nine overs.
Gregory is familiar with this ground as the captain of The Hundred franchise Trent Rockets, although don’t make too much of that in the West Country where they just regard that as an inconsequential temporary absence best not mentioned. He will hope his performance sets up Somerset for a repeat of their 2019 innings victory here, when he took six for 68. Well, maybe, but he might be best advised not to bet on it.
The first chunk of the day had belonged to Ben Duckett and Haseeb Hameed, whose opening stand was worth 125 in 32.1 overs when Duckett was lbw to a gentle inswinger from Craig Overton. Overton had bowled only three overs with the new ball before hobbling off with a sore left foot, but he soon returned and fulfilled his stint, periodically offering an aggrieved kick or two of the footholds. An Overton brother kicking the footholds is truly a harbinger of Spring.
Duckett is approaching an Ashes summer with the same buoyant inventiveness that brought him 1,102 Championship runs last summer at 72.28 – nearly double his average the previous season. There is no more watchable batter among county cricket regulars and the longer the circuit is blessed by his presence the better.
At his best, Duckett can feel ludicrously dismissive. There is no sense of disdain, because he is far too easy-going for that, just a sense over the past year that if he feels like doing much as he pleases there is no reason why he shouldn’t. This nonchalance probably makes bowlers bowl badly at him – and if they bowled too short at times, he is a little guy, and pugnacious with it, so leaves little margin for error.
In 91 balls, he managed 75 jaunty runs. Against his England teammate, Jack Leach, a left-arm spinner whose stock he has seen rise, he was almost playful, reverse sweeping his second ball over square leg for six, and later throwing in an over-the-shoulder scoop for good measure, like the court jester, Will Somers, might have dared to attempt to amuse King Henry VIII on a day when his leg ulcers were giving him gip.
“I assessed the pitch and decided it was going to do a bit and tried to put the pressure back on the bowlers,” Duckett said.
Alongside him, Haseeb Hameed trusted to his defensive technique, but not always. He could not fail to be aware that enterprise is now officially sanctioned at England level. But like Alex Lees, who lost his England place, all-out aggression sits uneasily on him and he would be better gradually broadening his game, finding his own tempo.
Hameed’s 65 was a strange affair: it took 151 balls, and a mistimed pull against Peter Siddle got him off the mark after 29 balls, so it hardly sounds hazardous, but such statistics belie an innings characterised by a desire to dominate. There were a string of big play-and-misses outside off stump as he seemed too anxious to play the big shot and when he reached his half-century by slicing Gregory high over slips it felt in keeping with an impatient innings. He became Gregory’s first victim, James Rew, a former England U-19 wicketkeeper getting his chance this season stooping behind the stumps to hold a low catch.
Gregory’s day had taken an upturn. He felt himself a bowler again, skilful, not fast, but just fast enough. Ben Slater mis-pulled a shortish ball, but Lyndon James fell first ball to the best of the seven – a shortish delivery one that shaded away and dislodged his off stump. Siddle also took advantage of more responsive conditions. Firstly, Joe Clarke pushed hard at one and Cameron Bancroft fumbled the ball into the ball into his midriff as he tumbled backwards, then Steven Mullaney was lbw to one that seamed back sharply.
It was Gregory, though, who continued to prosper. Liam Patterson-White and Tom Moores (a little unfortunate) fell lbw to balls snaking in from around the wicket. Stuart Broad’s first innings of the season brought a second-ball duck as he touched one that seamed away. Dane Paterson, one of life’s no 11s, was perhaps not the most illustrious name to complete a CB, but his step away to carve to deep backward point added his own special signature to the cake.
“This place is a bit like my second home with being my base with the Trent Rockets,” Gregory said. “I’m not quite back to my best but there are signs. There are still things that I’m not quite there with but what was exciting is that there are signs: I feel pretty good physically.”
Somerset lost two in reply by the close. The second day could be cursed by bad weather, but what play there is could leave Notts in charge. Cameron Bancroft, an Australian with outside Ashes ambitions, vs Stuart Broad (wicketless so far in five overs so far) is a decent top of the bill.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps