Middlesex make a welcome return to Specsavers County Championship action on Monday, with a trip across the river Thames to the Kia Oval, where they'll take on London rivals Surrey in a crucial Division One clash.
With Middlesex heading into the clash on the back of a disappointing defeat in their last Championship encounter at Lord's against bottom side Warwickshire, Captain James Franklins will need to rally his men for the final push as the Seaxes look to finish the season well.
Having won two, lost three and drawn four of this season's four-day campaign to date, the defending Champions have struggled to find the consistency that saw them lift the title so brilliantly last year. Although in what's shaping up to be a tight table, they only sit twenty points behind Lancashire and Hampshire in joint second place, with a game in hand on the latter of those two sides.
At the other end of the table, Warwickshire's win against Middlesex in their last meeting gave the Midlanders a much needed boost and brought them a step closer to maintaining their own Division One status, as they moved within thirty one points of Franklin's men, who lie in seventh spot.
Middlesex's opponents over the next four days, Surrey, sit in fifth position, just eight points ahead of the Seaxes having also played nine matches. With five games remaining, it's all to play for as the season nears its climax.
The key for Middlesex is to look up, not down, and the club's Head coach Richard Scott is upbeat after a meeting with the squad this week...
“We all expressed the hunger and desire to improve over the next month and turn it into a good season.
“I’m very much looking forward to getting back to four-day cricket, and we’re looking forward to fielding a very strong side against Surrey next week.
“We’re training very hard to make sure we finish the season strong. We will go to the Oval confident that we have prepared well. We’re looking for a good performance there and then kick on in the final matches.
“We all thought it was going to be tight, and it is – apart from Essex, who have had an extraordinary season, winning six out of nine matches.
“It’s such a highly competitive league. You can’t just turn up and blow sides away. You’ve got to work your socks off to win a match, though it’s still a bit disappointing that we haven’t had more good results.
“We pride ourselves on being hard to beat. And the aim over the next few weeks is to climb that table.”
Whilst Middlesex's title defence may have not lived up to expectations thus far, there have been numerous mitigating reasons!
Key injuries and International call-ups have at times stretched the squad to its limits, with key men Adam Voges, Paul Stirling and Sam Robson all recently sidelined through injury, whilst Toby Roland-Jones and Dawid Malan's Test call-ups have also been instrumental in Middlesex being forced to shuffle the pack.
With all three injured players having now recuperated from their respective ailments and back in contention for the Oval clash, and Roland-Jones not picked for the Headingley Test and also available, Middlesex's squad takes on a more familiar look for the London derby, although with Nick Gubbins and Ryan Higgins now taking up residence on the treatment table, Middlesex's selection problems continue.
Opener Max Holden, after impressing on his loan spell with Northamptonshire this season, has been recalled to the club, and is included within the squad named by Richard Scott for Monday's clash...
James Franklin (captain)
John Simpson (wicket-keeper)