Notts aim to compete at the sharp end once again

New signing Zak Chappell will be among those aiming to make a difference.
New signing Zak Chappell will be among those aiming to make a difference.

The new cricket season is nearly upon us as the daffodils shoot up and the Sunday mornings are alive with the sound of hedge trimmers and lawnmowers.

We are days away from the opening shots being fired in the new county cricket season and fans of our summer game couldn’t be happier.

Whilst uncertainty surrounds the structure of the domestic calendar from 2020 onwards, Nottinghamshire’s supporters can rightly put any concerns to one side and focus on a forthcoming campaign that should see their favourites competing at the sharp end in all three competitions.

Last summer promised so much but ultimately fizzled out in disappointment for Notts, as the second half of the red ball season produced only two draws and five defeats.

Fortunately, thanks to being early front-runners – three wins out of the opening four Division One contests – the county just about mustered enough points to stay up at Lancashire’s expense.

Having flirted with relegation though, coupled with quarter-final defeats in both white ball competitions, the coaching staff and Director of Cricket Mick Newell acted quickly to replenish resources and bolster the squad.

Their winter shopping was done early. Top order batsmen Ben Slater and Ben Duckett were brought in before the end of last season and were soon followed with the signatures of talented youngsters Joe Clarke and Zak Chappell.

Slater was one of only seven players to reach 1,000 first class runs last year, getting the bulk of them with Derbyshire before cementing an impressive start to his Nottinghamshire career with a debut century at Trent Bridge.

Duckett has already sampled life at the highest level and aims to regain the faith of the selectors with weight of runs in Division One. The former Northants man was one of six Outlaws players to represent the England Lions over the winter, joining Chappell, Clarke, Matt Carter, Tom Moores and club skipper Steven Mullaney, either in the UAE or India.

Clarke has been on the county’s wanted list for a couple of years and auditioned well at Trent Bridge last year, making an unbeaten and match-saving 177 for Worcestershire.

He is another who should grace the Test arena before too long and fills a middle order gap that has been vacated by the departure of Riki Wessels, who has gone in the opposite direction and joins the ranks at New Road.

Apart from the four new acquisitions Notts will at last be able to call upon the services of Paul Coughlin. The former Durham all-rounder missed virtually the whole of last season with a shoulder injury. He played in three matches in the T20 Blast but couldn’t bowl and only scored a handful of runs. Fully fit, he should be able to resume a career that looked destined to hit the heights.

Experienced duo Chris Nash and Jake Ball also missed a lot of cricket last year with injuries but are fully recovered and will be expected to play important roles in all three formats.

Whilst several member of the squad have stayed at home to build up their fitness and hone their skills, others have been in demand elsewhere over the past few months.

Overseas tournaments have proved lucrative for the likes of Harry Gurney, Alex Hales, Samit Patel and wicketkeeper Moores over the past few months.

Gurney was a member of the Melbourne Renegades side that won the Big Bash, then joined Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Super League, before heading off for his first taste of IPL cricket with Kolkata Knightriders. Regarded as one of the best in his profession in limited-overs cricket, he has taken the decision to focus solely on that form of the game from now on and has signed a ‘white ball only’ contract with his employers.

One quick bowler who will be around for early red ball action is Stuart Broad, however. Cleared to play by the ECB, the England international will be available for the first two championship matches, with Notts hosting both Yorkshire and Somerset in early April.

The battle between Broad and his Test skipper Joe Root should provide an interesting backdrop to Trent Bridge’s opening fixture of a packed summer.

The venue will, of course, be playing host to several matches in the ICC World Cup in late May and early June, as well as hosting a One-Day International between England and Pakistan.

It is thought unlikely that Notts will have an overseas player in for the first couple of matches. James Pattinson, the Australian quick who featured for Notts in 2017, remains the number one target providing Cricket Australia will sanction a season of county cricket for a player who has had to endure a series of injury set-backs over the last 18 months. Pattinson still has to complete his Sheffield Shield season with Victoria but is keen to return.

Nottinghamshire’s pre-season preparations have already included a tour of South Africa and will be followed up by home friendlies against Northants next week.

Weather-permitting (there wasn’t a ball bowled due to the saturated outfield last year), the now-traditional first-class match at Fenner’s, against Cambridge MCCU, will herald the start of the first-class fixture list on 31 March.

Luke Fletcher, who was the county’s championship player of the year for 2018, didn’t go on the pre-season tour as he awaits the birth of his second child.

He, along with the likes of Jake Libby, Luke Wood, Mark Footitt and Lyndon James, will be anxious to press their claims for a starting berth for the Yorkshire game on 5 April.