Specsavers County Championship action returns to Lord's on Saturday in a clash of huge importance at the top of the Division One table, as league leaders Middlesex host Durham, with both sides looking to grab the initiative as the domestic first-class season moves towards it climax.
Having exited both the Royal London One-Day Cup and the NatWest T20 Blast in the last ten days, Middlesex are now able to focus their efforts and concentrate entirely on maintaining their unbeaten County Championship campaign, with five crucial clashes remaining, as the club searches for its first Championship honours since 1993 when Mike Gatting led the Seaxes to the title, in a side that included both Angus Fraser and Richard Johnson.
It has been well-publicised that competing in the County Championship was established as Middlesex's primary objective when they set out their 2016 targets in pre-season, whilst making progress in both the fifty over and twenty over white-ball competitions was also a priority.
Middlesex can rightly claim that their second objective has already been met this year, with the club qualifying for the knockout stages of the T20 Blast competition and narrowly missing out qualification in the Royal London, although competing in all formats of the game has taken its toll on Middlesex's squad, which has been stretched in recent weeks with an increasing number of injuries to key players.
With recent exits from both white-ball competitions, being able to focus entirely on their main objective is a huge positive for Middlesex, and to have pulled through what was arguably their sternest test to date in the Championship, when London rivals Surrey had the better of proceedings for the first three and a half days, only for the hosts to salvage a draw and remain unbeaten in the four-day competition, was a true test of character and showed the mental strength and togetherness that the Seaxes have developed under the excellent stewardship of James Franklin.
In stark contrast, when Durham had their own opportunity to take the initiative and steal a march on Middlesex and the other counties fighting for the title, things couldn't have ended any differently.
Returning to Taunton on day three of their latest Championship clash, themselves unbeaten to that point, Durham needed just 46 runs, with five wickets left standing, to secure an important victory and push towards the title. Instead, they imploded. Just 18 balls were needed by Somerset to pick up the last five Durham wickets and roll over the visitors tail to inflict their first defeat of the season upon them. An incredible end to an incredible game, which Durham will see as a genuine opportunity missed, having not been able to secure the win that would have seen them lay down genuine claims for the title. How they pick themselves up from that devastating defeat will be crucial to how their 2016 season pans out.
The result at Taunton, combined with Middlesex's draw at Lord's, saw James Franklin's extend their lead at the top of the Division One table over Durham, who slipped to fourth, although the gap between the two sides only sits at 20 points, with Durham still holding a game in hand. Middlesex are without an overseas player for this clash as George Bailey has left us to join up with the Australians ahead of their One Day series in Sri Lanka and Sam Robson (side), Eoin Morgan (finger) and James Fuller (side) are still on the injury list.
Middlesex name a 14 man squad for this clash at Lord's;
James Franklin (captain)
Gates open at 10am each day with the match scheduled to being at 11am. Middlesex members are reminded that they have free entry to the match on production of their membership cards. The Middlesex Room President's Box is available to members and their guests on Sat, Mon & Tues of this match. On Sunday 14th Grandstand Boxes 10&11 will be open to Members and their guests.
Tickets are available to purchase from the North Gate or Grace gate ticket selling points - £18 adults, £9 over 65's and £5 under 16's.