There was a final-day feeling that a result might be possible. Resuming two down and still six behind, Lancashire would need to bat well, one felt, in order to avoid defeat.
Nobody could have foreseen what would follow. 12 wickets were to tumble in the opening 90 minutes of the final day for just 25 runs, with newly-promoted Nottinghamshire sealing a brilliant six-wicket win over a side many are tipping as title-contenders.
It was one of the more extraordinary mornings of cricket witnessed in recent history. Lancashire, on a fairly solid 58-2 after a rain-curtailed day three, had no answer for a Notts attack who made the most of helpful conditions with the ball.
Harry Gurney, who had taken the two wickets of Haseeb Hameed and Alex Davies on day three, was to carry on where he left off.
It took just three balls for him to remove Lancashire debutant Keaton Jennings who failed to add to his overnight score.
That triggered the collapse that was to come. Even the vastly-experienced Shivnarine Chanderpaul couldn’t put the brakes on Nottinghamshire’s charge, edging Gurney to Ross Taylor at slip. Lancashire remained two behind having lost their fourth wicket. There was a collective feeling that the hosts were firmly up against it.
A fine flourishing cover drive from Liam Livingstone took Lancashire into the lead, but it was to be brief gloss on a miserable morning for batsmen.
There was more than a touch of devilment about the wicket, nibbling enough to cause all such of problems, and that was laid bare by the equally devilish Jake Ball, who claimed three wickets with the score on 66 – Livingstone, Steven Croft and Jordan Clark wearing the grass away as the batsmen trudged out and then swiftly back in to the Old Trafford dressing rooms.
In particular the wicket of Croft, ripping out off stump, was a beauty for the highlights reel.
Ball would finish with four, taking him to nine wickets in the match as he added Dane Vilas to his Monday-morning hitlist. But Gurney was the second innings star, claiming 6-25 as Lancashire were dismissed for just 73.
Instantly the collapse statistics rolled in like a ten-pin ball down an alley. They had lost eight wickets for just 15 runs on the final morning – a spell of just 60 balls and only 56 minutes – and all ten of their wickets had gone for just 24 – as Glen Chapple’s side capitulated from 49-0 to 73 all out.
10 runs was to be Nottinghamshire’s target.
It was a remarkable morning, anyone wandering in slightly late would have been perplexed at what had occurred. Those of us who watched every ball of it had little more understanding.
But it inevitably brought jokes about the challenging nature of the run chase, the daunting prospect of a mammoth chase of 10 runs, the nerves that must have been jangling in the Notts changing room.
Incredibly, ridiculously, those jokes weren’t that far off the mark. Steven Mullaney picked out Graham Onions in the deep off Joe Mennie.
1-1, game on, the jokes continued.
By the time Mennie had left himself on a hat-trick and reduced Notts to 5-3, even the most seasoned cricket observers were left rubbing their eyes.
Onions added to the mischief, getting rid of Taylor for a duck, before an inside edge from Riki Wessels ended the drama.
12 wickets in exactly 15 overs of a crazy morning, just over 90 minutes of ball dominating bat in the opening round of the Championship. Who’d be a batsman in April?
It was a first defeat at Old Trafford for Lancashire since May 2016 – their first loss there in 11 matches. Nottinghamshire were the better side over the piece, making the most of the advantage handed to them through the no-toss rule and exploiting conditions perfectly.
The game as a whole was stop-start. No play on day one, a glorious day two which featured 16 wickets as the visitors claimed the upper hand.
Day three, another scrappy one, rain coming and going, ultimately cutting it down to half a day. All in all, the match was won in just over a day and a half.
Lancashire captain Livingstone was philosophical about the defeat, admitting his side were second best.
“We had the tougher conditions but I also think we’ve been outplayed,” Livingstone said.
“It’s been a funny game really, at times the pitch has looked unplayable and at times the pitch has looked pretty good. It’s disappointing but, dust ourselves down and go again next week.
“It would have been horrible for them if we’ve got 70 or 80 in front. And we knew when we lost a few wickets, the talk was to get 60, 70, 80 ahead and you never know what can happen.
“I think we can take confidence from having them 10-4 and we can take that into Chelmsford next week.”