Yesterday at Trent Bridge was a Test match for Gordon Muchall, and he responded with an innings worthy of the occasion.
Such has been the struggle the 31-year-old has had just to make Durham’s four-day team, wearing the Three Lions is a dream that will never come true for him.
But in the closest situation he will get – at a Test venue against an international attack – Muchall showed all his qualities with a 158 not out.
Durham have always been a club that has seen injuries and departures not as setbacks, but opportunities, and lately there have been plenty of them.
Normally the idea is that the latest off the academy’s production line takes his chance, as Gavin Main did with a spell of hostile fast bowling on Sunday, but more than a decade after he emerged from that finishing school, no one will begrudge the likeable Muchall – an “all-round good egg” in the words Mark Stoneman tweeted last night.
Some opportunities are better than others.
Muchall had the fortune to bat at No 4 at Taunton last week, on a flattened-out pitch under glorious skies. He made an eye-catching 14, then slapped the ball straight to backward point. Had it not been for Scott Borthwick’s chipped fingers, he would have been sat at home ruing that.
The odds were much less in his favour yesterday. All 58 overs once play finally got started at 1.30pm were floodlit, such was the dark hue of the clouds at a ground renowned for helping the seamers.
Five of Nottinghamshire’s six-man attack have played Test cricket and Stuart Broad and Peter Siddle were amongst the best bowlers in the marathon Ashes double-series of 2013-14.
“It’s always nice to play against these guys – it’s the closest I’m going to get to international cricket,” Muchall was able to reflect afterwards. “Broad coming back from injury was nice and Siddle’s been a regular in the Australian team for a long time.
“I enjoyed the challenge of facing those two first thing in the morning, and the new ball is due soon so if we can get on today, that will be good for me.”
Muchall was dropped on 86 – a difficult chance to Riki Wessels when Siddle was in full flow, and Chris Read missed a stumping when he had 133, but the false shots were far outweighed by what Ben Stokes called the “incredible” ones.
They came from the off, unfurling a beautiful cover drive from Broad’s first over of the day. That and the pull were particular favourites.
Runs came quickly, but in an orthodox fashion. Three boundaries flowed in the space of four Andre Adams’ deliveries, the odd one out a play-and-miss. His 50 came from 48 deliveries, 100 from 102, and 150 from 183 as Nottinghamshire changed tack from attack to containment.
His half-century was a first in the County Championship since June 2011, though his previous century had come only a month earlier.
When Muchall reaches three figures he tends to make the most of it. Five of his ten Championship hundreds have been 140 or over, and the smallest two were not out. He raced through the nervous 90s in an over. He used his feet to loft Samit Patel over long-on for six, pulled the next ball for four and turned to the dressing room with both arms aloft. It was a similar reaction when he reached 150.
He was fortunate to survive the 49th over.
Stokes and Siddle enjoyed their battles in Australia, taking one another’s wickets, and it is incredible the latter’s bowling has gone unrewarded thus far in the game.
Stokes was still finding his feet on 11 when he edged Siddle just in front of slip Steven Mullaney. Two balls later the chance went to hand, but a stretching Wessels at first slip could not hold the opportunity Muchall granted. The over finished with Stokes grasping at thin air outside off stump.
In his first innings since breaking his wrist eight weeks ago, Stokes unsurprisingly started rustily. The clip off his legs to get off the mark with four the delivery after Keaton Jennings feathered behind was a false dawn, followed by 12 dots, the last of which saw Ajmal Shahzad beat him all ends up. He contributed only 13 to the first 50 runs added with Muchall.
He edged through the vacant gully on 20, and has his wrist taped up four runs later.
As with his bowling, though, Stokes worked his way into form, dismissively pulling Shahzad to the boundary.
It took a good catch from Michael Lumb, running and diving to his left at long-off to remove him when he failed to get over a drive, and the Nottinghamshire reaction, the whole team running over to the catcher, showed the high bounty on Stokes’ head now he has gone from one of the most exciting talents on the county circuit to the rising star of the Test arena.
There is an element of selfishness about Paul Collingwood’s point-blank refusal to bat anywhere but six in four-day cricket, and it has led to Muchall, Michael Richardson and Phil Mustard being shunted up and down the batting order for some time.
But when the fourth wicket does fall, the captain is always willing to play at the tempo his team needs.
Yesterday they wanted him to get on with it, anxious to claim as many batting points as they could while the weather held and Collingwood was up for that, hitting Patel for sixes square and straight. It was frustrating, then, that the umpires got twitchy about the light – actually worse when tea approached – with Durham 15 short of a fourth batting bonus point.
Whatever their reward from this game, Muchall’s form has made it worthwhile.