Sussex 565 (Jordan 147, Burgess 146, Archer 72) lead Nottinghamshire 477 (Root 132, Root 124, Gurney 42*) by 88 runs
Moments after Worcestershire had their sixth first innings wicket against Durham, Northamptonshire were bowled out for 202. It wasn’t quite butterflies flapping wings – it was Worcestershire skipper Joe Leach dismissing Ryan Pringle – but the effects were registered across Division Two, as the boys from New Road sealed promotion. At Hove, there was no announcement, but word soon spread around the ground and to the Nottinghamshire dressing room: the Worcester boys are happy.
With one promotion spot to Worcestershire and Northamptonshire flunking their lines, Notts knew they could take what should have been theirs a long time ago. For the first two days, they toiled in the field for five sessions straight in conceding 565 to Sussex, then toiling with the bat for one session more.
They crumbled to 65 for 5, before scabbing to 108, which is where we began on day three. Nottinghamshire needed to get to 200 and then avoid to defeat, which was easier said than done on a pitch that was lifting off a length. What followed was a shift so remarkable from a living, breathing and, until tomorrow evening, playing Nottinghamshire legend that it begged the question – “who writes Chris Read‘s scripts?”
Certainly not the man himself: a far too modest sort who, before today, might have lambasted his own form, with a top score of 88 in a Division Two season that many thought Nottinghamshire had wrapped up in June. But in Read’s final match, when his team needed him most, in what might be his final innings for the county, Read chalked up his 26th first-class hundred from 116 balls, featuring 13 fours a top-edged six that took him to three figures.
At the other end was a knock of equal quality: Billy Root, younger brother of Test captain Joe, stamping his own mark on the game with a sharp, impish maiden Championship hundred from 116 balls. (he already had a first class one in the bag for Leeds & Bradford MCCU, versus Sussex as it happens). A skittish start, which saw him wear a blow on the helmet from Jofra Archer last night, made way for some fine shots square of the wicket today, as 100 runs were scored in the opening 78 minutes. Read and Root ran rampant to go well beyond that first batting point, putting on 242 to ensure that Nottinghamshire could start focusing, again, on matters in their control.
By stumps, a first-innings deficit of just 88 meant Northamptonshire’s 17 without loss in pursuit of a match-winning 197 was of little interest. Nor, too, trying to come back tomorrow and force a victory. “It’s not high on my agenda!” laughed Read, as the covers were reinforced with rain a threat for the late evening. Funnily enough, he doesn’t mind if they stay on for all of day four, too.
“We started out this game looking to win,” he said. “As we always do. And we got off to a great start to get them 107 for five and thought we’d be right in the hunt to do that. Obviously, it was desperately disappointing yesterday to let them slip from 107 for five to 565! Then for ourselves to slip so badly to 65 for five. You start realigning your targets to say, actually, what do we need to do?” In a hugely successful 2017 in which Notts lift the Royal London Cup and the NatWest T20 Blast, promotion as the second-placed team will be trophy enough.
Not everyone who leaves the game on their own terms does so without regrets. Over an international and domestic career spanning two decades, 349 first-class matches, 333 one-daters and 110 T20s, Read will have picked up a few.
Some will stay with him, such as a Test career of 23 innings and just one fifty. In an interview with Spin magazine from 2009, he was as open and frank as ever on his 15 Tests: “I had numerous chances to establish myself in the England team and I have to accept that I didn’t fully take them.”
But Read took last season’s relegation with a strong Notts side personally. His words in the aftermath spoke of a player scorned and a man hurt. He saw the club he loved fall from the place he feels it deserves to be: leading English cricket, holding court at the top table. He guided them to a Championship win in 2010. And now, with his last act, has kept his promise to get them back to where they belong.
What awaits the 39-year-old is a job in the “real world”. The manner with which he drove down the ground, particularly inside mid on, suggests another year might not have been beyond him. He’d make a fine addition to the Emergency Services given the number of fires he has put out for Nottinghamshire over the years. Instead, a position as Uppingham School’s director of cricket awaits. There will be tears shed tomorrow when he finally waves goodbye, as there were today when he reminded everyone of what they will be missing.
As good as Read and Root’s rampage, it was still down to numbers 10 and 11 to take Nottinghamshire past the follow-on target. A crisp four from Harry Gurney off Jofra Archer took the score to 415 for nine, one run needed to ensure Sussex could not ask the visitors to bat again. A single down to third man from Matt Carter drew cheers from the healthy traveling support.
Without wishing to be the one over your shoulder, telling you how many calories are in cheesecake – Read was dropped at midwicket on 70, by the way – it cannot go unmentioned just how bad Sussex were with the ball. Despite starting the day with a lead of 457, only two slips were employed for most of the morning, as Luke Wells – stand-in skipper – opted for run-saving rather than wicket-taking positions. He was not backed up by his bowlers, either, who could not shake themselves out of bowling half-volleys and long-hops. Stuart Whittingham was unable to discover any of yesterday’s pace.
How else to explain a 10th wicket stand of 73 that saw Gurney, the poster boy for No 11 batsmen, post a new personal best of 42 not out before Carter’s wicket, on 33, closed the innings. It gave the scorecard a peculiar look, with Nottinghamshire’s numbers one to five as the five lowest scorers in the innings. Not long after, a mist descended on Hove and, at 1715 BST, play was called off for the day. Thanks to Read, a mist had also long descended upon every Nottinghamshire cricket lover.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport