Nottinghamshire 188 for 4 (Mullaney 63*, Hameed 49, Snater 3-54) lead Essex 99 (Browne 53, Fletcher 6-24) by 89 runs
If you had to nominate a player who exemplifies the beating heart of county cricket, Luke Fletcher would be high up the list. That heart has rarely pumped as merrily as it did against the champions, Essex, as he turned in the most successful shift of his career.
It was a grand day for Fletcher, a day when this stalwart Nottinghamshire servant got a bit of a sweat on. Presented by a cloudy day and a green Trent Bridge surface, he bowled with exemplary accuracy and skill, moved the ball both ways in the air and off the pitch and collected six for 24, the first six-for of his career.
Conditions were in his favour. According to a "colour expert", Sage Green harnesses the calming energy inherent in green, but anchors it with earthiness and depth. Not when Fletcher is bowling on it, it doesn't. By the end of Essex's innings, Sage Green was not remotely calming. What's more, it had been combined with Desire, one of the pinker, and lesser-known red tints, but suitably conveying not just Fletcher's colour as the overs totted up, but his wholehearted commitment to the cause.
He rounded things off with a triple-wicket maiden - and came close to a hat-trick in a four-wicket maiden, only to stifle his appeal against the last man, Jamie Porter. As Porter took a while to appear, the Essex dressing room presumably a chaotic picture of discarded pads, Fletcher had chatted contentedly to the umpires, a convivial guy in a largely convivial competition.
It is too early to predict a shock result with confidence, but Nottinghamshire, who ended a winless Championship run of 1,043 days last week by thrashing their East Midlands rivals, Derbyshire, are perfectly positioned to follow it up with an even more startling win. They will begin the second day on 188 for 4, a lead of 89, and threaten to throw Group One wide open.
Until Steven Mullaney (63 not out from 69 balls) and Lyndon James took the initiative for Notts late in the day with an assertive, unbroken partnership of 104, only two batters had played with any authority,
Nick Browne's excellent 53 for Essex, full of solid drives and purposeful shorts of his legs, will gain little attention. Haseeb Hameed's excellent 49 at the top of Notts' order brought purrs of pleasure and rightly so because after a horrendous few years, his moving parts appeared to be well oiled again. His chin-length haircut might owe much to lockdown but it feels like a symbol of his move into adulthood. But this is three good weeks after three traumatic years, he is enjoying his cricket and vice captaincy and England should have the resolve to leave him to it for the summer.
But back to Fletcher because it is rightly his story. If Notts are the Outlaws then he is surely the epitome of Little John, a formidable figure - 6ft 6ins tall, born in the county, and as loyal to the cause as they come. His great champion, the BBC radio commentator, Dave Bracegirdle, told that nobody has taken more red-ball wickets for Notts this century. Lissom he is not (Fletcher, not Bracegirdle), but he has rarely looked fitter and his stamina is proven; he is one of the county game's great character cricketers.
His first wicket, and the only one he took all morning, was that of the Essex captain, Tom Westley, who was unhinged by a superb delivery that left him to hit off stump. "A dream ball," Fletcher said - his definition of a dream ball simply being an occasional and deserved reward for doing good things.
In the afternoon, Essex lost six wickets for 28 and Fletcher's share of that was five for 11 in seven overs. He began with Ryan ten Doeschate, swinging one back to have him lbw, and Adam Wheater, strangled down the legside as Fletcher lost control of the swing. Then came three in an over: Browne, who until then had been unperturbed, well caught at deepish backward point as he was drawn into a drive at a swinging delivery; Shane Snater, bowled by another ripper which pitched and left him; and the Australian, Peter Siddle, who nodded that he was ready to receive his first ball then mentally nodded again as he missed it and fell lbw.
Fletcher braved the drizzle and falling temperatures, hoodie obscuring his face, to consider his great day. He does not crow on such occasions, has no great ambitions, so he shared that the he had taken confidence from the team win at Derbyshire and had been in good rhythm all season.
Far more revealing was the feedback from the outer. The disappointment of Fletcher's six-for was that it came in an empty stadium, because he is a Fan's Cricketer. But social media can assuage that to some degree.
Chris Nash, a former teammate, messaged in to say that Fletcher was fast becoming his 27th favourite cricketer. "That's good from him - he played with Bradman," Fletcher said. Another onlooker suggested that he should be given the Freedom of Nottingham. "That could be dangerous," he ventured, imagining a beer or two, and ensuring that a day of serious endeavour ended with bursts of laughter.