Nottinghamshire 204 for 6 (Taylor 50, Leach 3-44) lead Worcestershire 110 (Clarke 42, Fletcher 5-27) by 94 runs
It was so cold at New Road that umpire Richard Illingworth wore gloves throughout a day from mid-November but Luke Fletcher provided a heart-warming story by taking a career-best five for 27.
The 29-year-old Nottinghamshire seamer missed the second half of last season with severe concussion after he was struck by a fierce return drive from Warwickshire’s Sam Hain in a T20 match at Edgbaston.
Those who witnessed the incident feared that Fletcher might have sustained life-threatening injuries. It was typical of Fletcher, an affable character and a cult figure at Trent Bridge, that his first comment after suffering the blow was to ask how the ball was. The damage to Fletcher’s head was so serious that he was not allowed to resume bowling until late December.
Fletcher used his enforced lay-off to improve his fitness and he has started the new season in good heart and fine form. Having taken six wickets in the match in last week’s defeat by Yorkshire at Headingley, Fletcher filleted Worcestershire to claim his first five wicket haul since 2013.
“It’s good to be back playing again. Missing half of last season was frustrating, particularly with the way things were going for me, but I can understand the reasons why I couldn’t play again,” Fletcher said.
“I had a lot of time to think about it and things I could work on during my time away from the game. Bowling was one of the last things I could do so I had to wait patiently for that but I did a lot of cycling up to Christmas.
“I was looking forward to coming back and thankfully it’s going well for me.”
Fletcher has often had to settle for providing dependable back-up to the likes of Stuart Broad and Jake Ball, but the roles were reversed here. Broad, playing his first match of the season, and Ball softened up Worcestershire by reducing them to three for three in the space of 12 balls when the match eventually got underway after two blank days.
Broad pinned Tom Fell LBW with his fourth ball but otherwise looked a little ring rusty in his four over opening spell from the Diglis End. When he switched to the New Road End, Broad found rhythm, pace and outswing which proved too much for tailenders Ed Barnard and Charlie Morris.
Ball struck with his fifth ball, when Daryl Mitchell was beaten by a full length delivery and again in his second over when Brett D’Oliveira obligingly prodded him to fourth slip.
After successive away defeats to Hampshire and Somerset, the last thing Worcestershire’s batsmen needed was to face two members of England’s seam attack from last winter’s Ashes series on a pitch that had been under cover for two and under water only four weeks ago.
Fletcher exploited the favourable conditions intelligently – there was no need for a toss – although Worcestershire helped him towards only the fourth five wicket haul in 11 seasons. George Rhodes shouldered arms to his second ball which trimmed the off stump and Ben Cox was caught behind withdrawing his bat.
Joe Clarke and Travis Head staged a brief fightback in a fourth wicket stand of 65 with Clarke committed to attack from the start. But he played one big shot too many and was well taken by Steven Mullaney at second slip, diving in front of Riki Wessels at first, and Head went lbw when Fletcher went round the wicket to the left-hander.
Having made up for some of the lost time by dismissing Worcestershire before lunch, Nottinghamshire set about building a lead but they were forced to proceed with caution in deteriorating light.
A busy half century from Ross Taylor took them past Worcestershire’s inadequate total before they lost three quick wickets. Bad light interrupted then halted play 11 overs early but by then Wessels and Tom Moores had put Nottinghamshire into a strong position from which they will expect Fletcher, Broad, Ball and Harry Gurney to bowl them to a two day victory.