Nottinghamshire 20 for 1 trail Surrey 240 (Elgar 59, Ashwin 6-69) by 220 runs
What felt like one of Nottinghamshire’s better days may prove to be so only if a depleted batting line-up can somehow find the resolve that has deserted them so many times this season and match Surrey, who had to battle for almost every run on a slow, turning pitch.
You would not be inclined to risk a lot of money on it happening. Only on six occasions this year have Nottinghamshire exceeded Surrey’s score and they have lost their top two batsmen, Chris Nash and Ben Duckett, to injury. Of those who are available, none has an average higher than mid-20s.
You would certainly not be wise to bet heavily on their staying in Division One. They began this round 37 points adrift at the bottom of the table and of the five matches they have left, even the least negative voices in the dressing room admit that they need to win three at the very least, including this one in particular.
It felt like a good day for them only because Surrey, whose own struggles leave them only 40 points better off than Nottinghamshire, were never really on top. Well set at 104 for 2 at lunch after the toss granted them their wish to bat first, they were not able to build on that position anything like as emphatically as they had hoped.
This was largely down to R Ashwin, the Indian bowling machine on whose shoulders Nottinghamshire’s hopes of survival weigh heaviest. Ashwin appears to be tireless. This is only his third match for the county yet he has already bowled 157 overs. They can only have imagined he would wheel in, hour after hour, so uncomplainingly.
On a used pitch obviously prepared for his delectation, Ashwin took six Surrey wickets for 69 runs, including all of the top four. But for the second match in a row, he also inspired and encouraged Nottinghamshire’s youngest player, the 20-year-old left-arm spinner Liam Patterson-White, who followed an eventful yet ultimately successful debut at Taunton last week by taking his first wickets on home soil.
Floored by such a severe bout of tonsilitis on the opening day in Somerset that he had to go to hospital, he returned to take 5 for 73 in the second innings, and while it was in a losing cause the young man admitted the experience of working alongside Ashwin, who also took five wickets, had advanced his education considerably.
He put what he learned to good use here, taking 3 for 62 from 22 overs. Having celebrated his maiden Trent Bridge wicket when Will Jacks offered him a rather tame return catch during the afternoon session, Patterson-White made the most important breakthrough as Nottinghamshire sought to snare the final four wickets after tea by dismissing Rikki Clarke leg before with a nicely flighted, turning delivery, and followed that by spinning one back a long way to bowl Morne Morkel, who was deceived enough to offer no stroke.
Clarke, whose patient resistance spanned almost two hours, was the third-highest scorer in the Surrey innings after Dean Elgar and Jamie Smith, who shared the best partnership of the innings in adding 81 for the third wicket and might have made a good few more, individually, had they not fallen victim respectively to the best ball and the best catch of the day.
Elgar, who batted with calm authority after Ashwin – into the attack inside the first 30 minutes of play – had dismissed makeshift opener Ryan Patel with his fourth delivery, completed an 82-ball half-century soon after lunch but then lost his off stump as he failed to keep out a terrific ball from the Indian Test bowler that would have seen off most batsmen.
Smith, the wicketkeeper whose batting form has earned him a run of games and who now has the gloves with Ben Foakes away with England Lions, batted sensibly for an hour and a half before falling foul of the sharp reactions of Ben Slater, fielding at short-leg, who held a fine catch off the face of the bat, giving Ashwin his fourth success. Nonetheless, a day after his 19th birthday, Smith had made an important contribution.
Surrey, without Sam Curran, also on Lions duty, and Mark Stoneman, who is missing for family reasons, have welcomed back their young spin bowling prospect, Amar Virdi, who turns 21 next week.
Virdi was a sensation last season, bouncing exuberantly into the title-winning side with 39 wickets. He suffered a back injury during the winter and struggled to regain his overall fitness, prompting director of cricket Alec Stewart to subject him to a regime of “tough love” in order to get him back in shape.
Looking suitably trim, he was handed the new ball alongside Morkel, who immediately looked a dangerous proposition on this surface and sent Nottinghamshire into the pavilion one down after facing 11 overs, forcing Slater to fend a rising ball off his hips to be caught at short leg.