Mullaney has taken over the reigns from the retired Read. © Getty
Despite a humbling defeat to Lancashire in the latest round of County Championship action, Nottinghamshire are sitting pretty at the top of Division One after achieving promotion back to the top flight last season. With three wins from five matches, things have gone pretty well so far for new captain Steven Mullaney.
He took over the reigns for both first-class and one-day cricket from legendary wicket-keeper Chris Read who bowed out from the game he had served with such distinction for 22 years at the end of last season. Read walked off into the sunset having led Notts to promotion back to Division One of the Championship and with both the 50-over and T20 trophies in their back pockets. It was a fine season to round off a stellar career.
Not, then, an easy act to follow. But in all-rounder Mullaney, Notts couldn’t have a more respected and savvy leader. Since joining the club from Leicestershire in 2010, the 31-year-old has played just about every role you could imagine: he’s opened the batting and batted in the middle order. He’s opened the bowling and bowled first change. He’s stood at slip and elsewhere. Now, he’s been given the captaincy.
How has it gone so far? “It’s something I really enjoy doing and I feel like I can make a difference,” Mullaney told Cricbuzz before the Lancashire defeat. “One of the main things [when he took over] was that I wasn’t going to let captaincy get in the way of my preparation. First and foremost, I wanted to be making sure my own game was in order.
“It’s probably been a bit easier with four-day cricket because I’ve had a little bit of a side strain which has meant I haven’t been able to bowl so I have been able to concentrate on my batting. They’ve all been very different games so I’ve already seen quite a lot of areas of captaincy which I hope can stand me in good stead moving forward.”
Mullaney scored a crucial 130 during Notts’ victory over Hampshire at Trent Bridge in the previous round – “One of the best performances I’ve been involved in” – which, finally, was evidence that he was, as he had thought, in decent form despite a lack of runs to prove it. Had it not been for a “couple of decent balls and a couple of bad decisions” his returns would have been even better.
For now, Notts and Mullaney can put the red-ball away and concentrate on defending their Royal London One-Day Cup crown which they won with a four-wicket defeat of Surrey in last year’s final at Lord’s. They open their campaign with four games in the next eight days, three of which are away from Trent Bridge, beginning with Lancashire at Old Trafford on Thursday (May 17).
Over the past few weeks Mullaney, who averaged 63 with the bat in the competition last year, has had discussions about the approach the team will take this season with Head Coach Peter Moores and assistant Paul Franks and they have had a couple of days white-ball practice to get themselves up to speed after more than a month of first-class cricket. Notts will be sticking to the ultra-aggressive style which made them winners last year, a style epitomised by their semi-final win against Essex when they chased down 370 with the help of a Mullaney century.
“We’ve got a couple of days where we can really sit down and get our game plans in place,” Mullaney says. “We’ve been doing a lot more fielding which transfers into white ball and a few lads have had a white ball net. It’s a competition that we did very well in last year and we’ll be looking to do the same again.
“We finished third in the group so we can improve on that. The aim is to finish top of the group and get a home semi-final, that’s the ideal. We know there’s a lot of good teams and a lot of teams have strengthened. We are going to have to play some good cricket to get out of the group. We’ll be looking to play attacking and carefree cricket and put on a show for the spectators. It stood us in good stead last year.”
Notts will be missing opener Alex Hales for at least the first two group matches while he is at the IPL and then they will probably lose him to England duty once the limited overs portion of the summer begins against Scotland in June. Hales, who has signed a white-ball only deal with the county, was a key part of their 50-over success last year with 434 runs and at an average of 72.33 at better than a run a ball.
“Whenever he’s available, we will be thrilled to have him back,” Mullaney says. “Alex and Riki [Wessels] both had tremendous white ball and red ball seasons. They were a big part of us doing well. Any white ball team in the world would miss Alex Hales. Any red ball team would miss him but that’s the choice he’s chosen to make.
“We’ve got Chris Nash who we signed from Sussex who has batted at the top of the order a lot, Tom Moores has proved he can do it, Billy Root has not even played this year and he’s got a really good average in all forms. To have Alex at the top is a massive bonus but I’m pretty confident that we’ve got some players who can come in and step up.”
Mullaney’s leadership potential and white-ball prowess was recognised by his appointment as captain of the North team for the North-South series in the Caribbean in March. Given members of England’s selection panel and coaching staff as well as Andrew Strauss, Director of England Cricket, had plenty of input into the squads and were also in attendance meant that it was no small deal to be handed the reigns. A 2-1 series win was fine reward for the North’s work.
“I was over the moon to get picked and then to be asked to captain was a very proud moment,” says Mullaney. “I was honoured to do it. It was obviously two weeks in Barbados which was nice on its own let alone to play some cricket. For the lads to buy into what myself, Paul Collingwood [Head Coach of the North] and Paul Franks [assistant] put in front of them, I thought credit to all them really. We made it fun, we made it really player led and I think that’s why we played some really good cricket.”
Giving responsibility to players is something that Mullaney has taken into his captaincy at Notts. “The game judges people, people don’t need to judge anyone,” he says. “Performances ultimately will dictate whether a player has had a good career or a bad career. It’s up to each individual at Notts to get themselves ready. The coaches are there to lead them in the right direction. The lads have been given certain aspects where you can do your own gym and stuff.
“As long as you’re ready to play and your fitness levels are decent and your training is of a high quality then it’s player led in that respect. It’s one in, all in. We’re a very tightly knit group, including all the support staff and I think that’s why we are doing so well, I really do.”
Does that help in tight situations on the field? “It’s proven that it has. It’s huge for us. I’m sure some time spend work time together and then don’t see each other. As families, we’ll all spend a lot of time together socialising. We are all pretty close mates out of cricket. We have our own interests which are all pretty similar. It’s massive for us and we think it stands us in good stead than when pressure moments come. Hopefully it means we can outride them.”
England’s resurgence in one-day cricket in recent times, leading to their current number one world ranking, has been achieved with a settled squad but with a little over a year to go until the World Cup, there is still time for a bolter or two to emerge. What if an injury to an experienced player on the eve of the tournament necessitated a stopgap measure? An impressive one-day record – batting average of 31 and bowling average of 31 – suggests Mullaney, with his vast experience and leadership skills, wouldn’t be the worst shout.
Not that he is expecting anything, despite some decent performances with the bat, averaging more than 50, in front of Strauss in the Caribbean. “I’m not really looking too far ahead and if anything comes of anything then so be it,” he says. “If not, I’ll just try and win some games for Notts.”
Nottinghamshire’s match against Warwickshire on May 27 at Trent Bridge, the club are putting on a Family Fun Day with tickets costing just one pound. All proceeds are going to the Trent Bridge Community Trust, the charitable arm of Notts.