Mullaney loving life at Notts
It is part of cricket’s enduring allure that a player who scored one run and did not take a wicket can be named man of the match.
Nottinghamshire’s Steven Mullaney achieved the feat in the Friends Provident t20 quarter-final against Sussex, but few of those packed into Trent Bridge on that muggy evening would begrudge him the honour.
His spell of canny medium-pace turned a tense contest that appeared to be heading in Sussex’s favour, and helped secure Notts a spot at finals day for the first time in four years.
Mullaney had been unable to play until this evening's Clydesdale Bank 40 match, because of an ankle injury sustained warming up for a LV= County Championship clash with Somerset, but it is a measure of his worth to the side that his journey back to full fitness has been so closely followed in Nottingham over the last fortnight.
Mullaney has played in every one of the Outlaws’ 17 t20 games so far, and only Dirk Nannes and Samit Patel have bowled more than his 53 overs.
Plenty of players around the country would gladly take an economy rate of 7.11 in Twenty20, while 14 wickets at 26.92 apiece are proof that Mullaney’s capabilities extend beyond simply drying up the runs.
The 22-year-old's statistics are all the more impressive given that this is his first full season in county cricket.
Trent Bridge became Mullaney’s cricketing home after he bade farewell to Lancashire at the end of last summer, ending an association that spanned more than half his life.
A lack of first-team opportunities at Old Trafford - he played just 17 games in four seasons - was the chief reason for making what he describes as the “hardest decision of my life”, but he admits the second phase of his professional career has surpassed his wildest expectations.
“I’d been at Lancs since I was 10 years old,” Mullaney told ecb.co.uk. “So 12 years down the line it’s hard to leave your own county.
“It was just a lack of opportunity. I’m still mates with a lot of people down there, but for my career I had to move on. I had to let my head rule my heart.
“I’m loving every minute of it here at Notts. It has gone better than I could have hoped for, so no regrets at all.”
It appears the right decision on more than one level. Not only has Mullaney excelled personally, but he has become an increasingly important cog in a Notts team that is challenging for honours on three fronts.
It is a happy marriage which owes much to the warmth of the reception he received at Trent Bridge, from his new team-mates and coaches right through to the staff at what must rank as one of the friendliest grounds on the circuit.
“I was made to feel very welcome as soon as I arrived,” Mullaney said. “It’s a very easy dressing room to fit into.
“I put it down to the team ethic, but it’s not just the dressing room. The coaches, the people that do a lot of work behind the scenes - the strength and condition coach, the physio, the people in the marketing and media department. It all clicks into place as one.”
Mullaney’s passage into an already strong Notts side was eased by his eye-catching early performances, most notably 41 off 22 balls against Leicestershire in the Clydesdale Bank 40 on his competitive debut and an unbeaten century in his first championship outing at the Rose Bowl the following week.
“It’s a lot easier to fit in when you do well, and I was lucky enough to do that,” he said.
“I knew I was going to play one-day and Twenty20 cricket when I came here, but my opportunity came a bit sooner in the longer form of the game.
“It’s a big confidence-booster from (director of cricket) Mick (Newell) to come in and play in most games.
“I’ve not done anything differently this year compared to last year; I’ve just been myself and tried to express myself.”
Mullaney certainly did so in the quarter-final, marking a running catch at long-on late in the game with a roar and salute to the crowd as Notts swept closer to victory.
He admits he has never experienced anything to compare with the frenzied atmosphere that night, so much so that he struggled to get his words out as he collected his match award in front of the television cameras.
“I was more surprised than anyone, I can assure you,” he admitted. “I laugh at people on the TV when they say they’re speechless, but I actually was. I didn’t know what to say.
“The fact that we’d just won was an unbelievable feeling; I’ve never had emotions like that through cricket.
“That game meant a lot to everyone. We play 16 games in the group stages, which is tough - people don’t realise how much it takes out of you.
“We said at half-time against Sussex that we’ve not got the runs as we wanted, but we’ll fight every ball for 120 balls - and we did.”
A Somerset side brimming with batting talent stand between Notts and a place in the final - they contest the second semi-final, starting at 3pm - but Mullaney insists he and team-mates fear no-one.
“There’s a lot of belief in the dressing room, as the quarter-final showed,” he said. “We worked very hard to get there and we deserve our place at finals day.
“We’ll prepare as we’ve done for the 17 games previously - practice our skills and our plans - and if we play the cricket we have been doing, we won’t be too far away.”