Nottinghamshire collapsed from 180/2 to 298/9 against Middlesex at Lord’s on a topsy-turvy opening day of the new County Championship season.
The game changed six overs before tea when the rusty James Taylor tamely pulled James Harris to mid-wicket. It was a needless shot that came totally against the run of play. Buoyed by breaking a 108-run partnership, Harris then found some more swing than he had earlier and proceeded to take three more quick wickets for three runs in the space of three overs, all lbw including the key scalp of Brendan Taylor for 106.
Harris finished the day with 4/75, equalling his best haul for Middlesex. The ex-England Lions seamer struggled during his first spell but there were enough signs to suggest that he has benefited from a winter working with bowling coach Richard Johnson. Having been pursued by all nine Division One counties when he signed in 2013, this is a big year for Harris who took just 12 Championship wickets at an average of 55.50 last year.
“We’ve decided basically to almost go back to go forward”, Harris said at the close when asked about what changes he had made under Johnson’s tutelage. “We went back to what I do naturally – both arms go together – instead of the split we tried to get going last season to bowl faster. As it happened with a winter in the gym I’m feeling a bit more comfortable with my bowling action again and it’s probably coming out a little bit quicker than it was before I started fiddling around with things. I’m feeling pretty good at the moment”.
After tea, a punchy 62 not out from Chris Read including eight fours and a six over the short leg-side boundary averted a crisis but the close of play scorecard still looked very different from what might have been imagined at half past three.
Read had won the toss and after some hesitation decided to bat first under cloudless skies. In April that is always a risky move but it looked to have been a good one after they survived the first session for the loss of only Steven Mullaney, bowled by Tom Helm after being spilled in the slips twice off the same bowler, and Alex Hales who was run out after being sent back by Brendan Taylor as he attempted to get off the mark.
Taylor starred with what was his fourth hundred in five hits since making 121 for Zimbabwe against Ireland at the World Cup. Now a Kolpak player and retired from international cricket, he followed up his century against Lougborough MCCU last week with an innings that hinted at a productive county career to come.
He nudged and nurdled his way to his first fifty – totally understandably in April – before freeing up to the extent that he was prepared to loft Paul Stirling over his head for four. Despite managing 216 international appearances, Taylor is only 29 and so could well become a long-term feature of an already strong Notts batting line-up.
The collapse that followed squandered much of his good work but so early in the season Notts will feel that they have enough to put Middlesex under pressure, especially as the hosts could well be without Dawid Malan for the remainder of the game after the latter was sent for an x-ray after hurting his finger attempting a tough slip catch.