Warwickshire 341 (Rhodes 91, Lamb 67, Paterson 5-90) and 201 for 6 (Rhodes 63, Burgess 61*, Chappell 3-53) lead Nottinghamshire 297 (Slater 77, Clarke 61, Norwell 4-64) by 245 runs
There were eyebrows raised at the start of the 2018 season when several counties, among them some of the biggest in the game, became embroiled in something of a bidding war for the services of Zak Chappell.
To some extent you can understand it, too. At the start of that season, Chappell had played 10 first-class games and claimed just 15 wickets at an average in excess of 50. Only towards the end of his time at Leicestershire, with the sharks circling and his departure all but guaranteed, did he pick up 16 wickets in three matches.
He didn’t make the most overwhelming start at Nottinghamshire, either. In that first season there, in 2019, he played three Championship matches across six months and didn’t take a wicket in any of them. You could probably forgive their supporters – or the likes of Luke Wood, who was eventually obliged to move on to gain more regular first team opportunities – for wondering what all the fuss was about.
But there’s something there. Something that isn’t always nurtured on the sluggish wickets on which modern Championship wicket – played in the margins of the season, as it is – is played. But something a bit special nevertheless.
He showed it here. If the wicket of Pieter Malan, slapping a short ball to cover, was unremarkable, his next two wickets were testament to rare skill. First Sam Hain edged one which was angled in but then bounced and left him – a beautiful delivery, by any standards – before Will Rhodes was bowled by a full one that pitched outside leg and swung deliciously late to take his off bail. He had already had Rhodes, on five, edging to slip. It was unclear whether the ball carried to Haseeb Hameed. Rhodes, who came into this game having not made a half-century this season, went on to make his second of the match. He looked in fine touch.
Clearly one decent spell of bowling from Chappell doesn’t make a season. And clearly his first-class bowling average for Nottinghamshire heading into this game – 47.27 – isn’t adequate. But when pitches are flat and batters are set, it is bowlers like Chappell, with his height, his pace and his skill combining, at his best, to offer a compelling package, who can make the difference.
It may prove to be a crucial spell. Before the wicket of Malan, Warwickshire had increased their first-innings lead of 44 to 139 and, with nine wickets in hand, were looking to accelerate towards a declaration.
But once Chappell had made the breakthrough, Luke Fletcher capitalised. And within an hour or so, Nottinghamshire had taken five wickets for 39 runs and were suddenly the side on top. First Fletcher exploited Matt Lamb’s poor balance, trapping him in front as he fell to the off side, before completing Tim Bresnan’s pair with one that demanded a stroke and drifted away to take the edge. Tom Moores, standing up to the stumps, made the catch look simple.
In many ways, Fletcher, as reliable as the good-natured village butcher he resembles, is a more valuable cricketer than Chappell. Certainly on the sort of slow seamers which have dominated in recent weeks. He has no great pace to speak of – you would think he operates in the mid-70s mph – but he moves the ball both ways, hardly bowls a loose delivery and belies his somewhat Milburnesque frame to contribute far more than his share of overs. He’s out of contract at the end of this season. He would make a valuable acquisition wherever he went.
But it’s bowlers like Chappell who win Tests. He’s only 24, too, and playing his 26th first-class game. If he can stay fit enough to string some games together, he may yet interest the England selectors.
Even after Chappell and Fletcher’s intervention, this intriguing match had another twist. Michael Burgess, feasting on some uncharacteristically loose fare from Dane Paterson, reached 50 for the second time this season. At one stage he took Paterson for three boundaries in an over demonstrating a strong cut and a pleasing cover drive. By the close, he had dominated an important seventh-wicket stand of 67 and taken Warwickshire’s lead to the brink of 250. A fascinating final day looms.
There was further good news for Nottinghamshire, though. Jake Ball, who hasn’t played since the first match of the season due to an injury to his lower back, looked impressive in having a bowl (with a white ball) on a pitch to the side of the square during the lunch interval. Later he enjoyed a brief spell as substitute fielder, too. You would think his return is imminent. Given that he was the top wicket-taker in the 2020 Blast, that will be a timely return as we prepare to enter a limited-overs window.
Chris Woakes has been training here over the last few days, too. Given that his England duties are likely to be limited to limited-overs cricket over the next couple of months, there is not a huge about of optimism over his likely availability for next week’s LV= Insurance Championship match against Derbyshire.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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