There was a time in the not too distant past when the prospect of playing a Nottinghamshire first team match away from Trent Bridge seemed highly improbable, yet now the club’s director of cricket, Mick Newell, can hardly imagine not making an annual visit to what has become a welcoming second home at Welbeck Cricket Club.
For 11 years – between 2004, when the green and golds contested a List A clash against Durham at Cleethorpes, and 2015, when they first played at the John Fretwell Complex, Sookholme Road – going to watch Chris Read, Paul Franks et al battle it out on home turf was only possible in West Bridgford, Nottingham.
And, as many of the club’s supporters will know, it was as far back as 1998 that the club had last played at an out-ground within the county borders – when Central Avenue, Worksop hosted the last of its 47 matches – prior to the recent change in policy.
But leaving behind the creature comforts of their superb Test-hosting venue on the odd occasion hasn’t done the club any harm. Conversely, in fact, it has brought several benefits, as the long-serving Newell has grown to appreciate.
“We always set up the agreement with the hope that it would be more than a one-off, but it has gone better than we could have expected,” he explained. “We desperately needed a second ground in the county to take the pressure off Trent Bridge in terms of preparing the square for big matches – and Welbeck has been ideal.
“We have enjoyed working with them and we hope we can keep coming back in the future. I think it’s a ground that suits 50-over cricket and I think it’s clear the players have enjoyed playing here.
“I’m not sure there is a massive home advantage playing at an out-ground. I think the reason we have done well at Welbeck is simply the fact we have played on some pretty good pitches.
“We like to play on pitches that have good pace and bounce. We have quite a lot of quick bowling and it means we like to play on surfaces with plenty of carry, rather than pitches that are slower and favour spinners, which is not our style of play.”
And no wonder Notts have enjoyed their trips to Welbeck so far. In 2015, they took on Warwickshire and surged to a crushing nine-wicket victory. Dan Christian took 5-40 as the Bears were dismissed for 220 before Alex Hales smashed a quickfire 103 and Riki Wessels 85 not out as victory was secured with almost 22 overs to spare.
Last year saw more fireworks from Wessels as his 114 helped Notts rack up 340-7 from their 50 overs against Derbyshire, who never looked likely to chase the runs down and were bowled out for 275, with Harry Gurney taking three wickets and Luke Fletcher and Steven Mullaney two each.
Newell is looking forward to the visit of another neighbouring county on May 7, as Leicestershire this time make the short trip for a Royal London One-Day Cup clash. And he hopes to see another strong showing from a batting line-up that has flourished at the venue so far.
He said: “I wouldn’t say our big run scoring has been down to short boundaries, because they are as big if not bigger then at Trent Bridge. It’s just a very good pitch for batting, and our batsmen who like to play their shots and play aggressively.
“We batted well on a number of occasions last year – we got more than 400 twice and we also almost 350 when we played at Welbeck, but we had a poor game at Leicestershire when we didn’t do very well in a run chase and we let Durham get 10 off the final two balls to win.
“It’s frustrating when you get some big scores like that but can still not qualify. Our bowling has been more inexperienced than the batting, but this year hopefully we will have a more experienced attack to go with our more establish batting.
Chris Read – now in his 19th year at Nottinghamshire – will again captain the side in 50-over cricket, as well as the County Championship, with Christian taking the reins for the shortest Twenty20 format.
Newell believes there is no-one better for the task than the man who guided the club to victory in the equivalent of this competition – the YB40 – in 2013, with victory over Glamorgan at Lord’s.
“Ready he has a lot of experience in 50-over cricket and it’s not impossible for a keeper to captain in that format, which it is really difficult to do in Twenty20 because there is so much going on,” he insisted.
“He’s a steadying influence, a safe pair of hands with his captaincy skills as well as the gloves who leads by example and performs under pressure. Some people don’t enjoy the pressures that come with captaincy, but his Chris has done it really well for so long.”
By the time the match is contested, Notts are likely to know where they stand in the Northern Group and what they have left to do to qualify for the knock-out quarter-finals.
But Newell already has a target in mind, saying: “I think if we get five wins out of the eight, which would give us then points, then we will definitely get out of the group.
“We want to start strongly obviously and get some early wins on the board and I think our game at Welbeck is the fifth game of our 50-over campaign.
“I think playing at Welbeck is well suited to this format because it is divided into the North and the South. Last year Derby were here, and this year it isn’t far up the motorway if you want to come from Leicestershire either.
“It probably means for a bigger crowd than if you were playing one of the southern counties and the crowds have responded for games here – they have always been excellent.”
For those not lucky enough to win tickets, they continue to be on sale now. Adults are priced at £10 for adults, £7 for concessions and £5 for juniors.
To book your tickets, call 01623 847468 or go to www.trentbridge.co.uk