Middlesex make an eagerly awaited return to the Specsavers County Championship tomorrow at Lord’s, when they’ll entertain Warwickshire, who come to the Home of Cricket in search of their first four-day win of the season.
Sat at the foot of the Division One table, Warwickshire remain winless from each of their opening eight first-class matches, and have just 47 points to show from what has been a disappointing campaign to date.
Both sides met in their last County Championship encounter, at Edgbaston, where in what transpired to be a magnificent game of cricket, Middlesex scraped home by one wicket, to secure what was a hugely important win, with Tim Murtagh hitting the winning runs to get his side over the line.
That victory got Middlesex’s Championship title defense well and truly back on course, moving them up to fifth in the Division One table on 94 points, although still with an all-important game in hand on the sides sitting directly above them. A repeat of the win at Edgbaston for Middlesex could see them move all the way up to second in the table, in prime position to mount their challenge for a back to back title as the season nears its climax.
Middlesex name a fourteen-man squad for the visit of the Warwickshire and go into the fixture without England men Dawid Malan and Toby Roland-Jones, who are currently at Old Trafford taking on South Africa in the fourth and final Test of the series. Whilst also named in that England squad, Steven Finn makes a welcome return for Middlesex and is available for his county over the next four days at Lord’s.
Middlesex are also missing County Championship regulars this term, Paul Stirling and Ollie Rayner, who both sit out of this one through injury, giving opportunities to Nathan Sowter and Harry Podmore, who are both named in the hosts’ squad.
Adam Voges makes a welcome return from injury, having fully recovered from the calf injury he sustained earlier in the campaign. Voges, who was averaging 57.50 before picking up that injury, has been a big miss for Middlesex and his return adds both quality and experience to the Middlesex batting line-up.
Voges is set to slot straight back into the side, joining the club’s leading run scorer this term Stephen Eskinazi (718 runs at 55.23) and Sam Robson, who leads the batting averages with 534 runs at 59.33, in the heart of the Middlesex run-scoring engine, and given the absence of Malan and Stirling, you feel that runs from this trio will be pivotal in putting Middlesex in a strong position in the game.
The absence of leading wicket-taker Roland-Jones is a blow for Middlesex, although the ever-reliable Tim Murtagh, alongside Tom Helm and Steven Finn, still provides plenty of experience and penetration with the ball, and with Nathan Sowter named as the leading spinner in the squad, he could be set to make his first-class debut for the club.
Warwickshire will be desperate to turn their season around and pull themselves out of the relegation fight they unexpectedly find themselves in. A major lack of runs and wickets throughout the side goes a long way to explaining their lowly position at the foot of the Division One table, with just 16 batting points and 16 bowling points collected all season.
The experienced Jonathan Trott is the only batsman for the visitors averaging above 40 this season, with 708 runs at 50.57, whilst Porterfield, Hain and Clarke, all average below 20. Ian Westwood is the only specialist batsman, aside of Trott, to be averaging over 30 this term, although the announcement of his immediate retirement from the game last week will not have helped Warwickshire’s cause.
With the ball, the consistency of Jeetan Patel is once again being heavily relied upon by Warwickshire, and with eighteen wickets to date the experienced overseas spinner is the visitors’ leading wicket taker in the competition so far this term, alongside Keith Barker, who also continues to deliver. In terms of the other bowlers, only Rikki Clarke has double figures for the Bears, although he surprisingly left the club this week, returning to Surrey, with Dom Sibley moving the other way. Whilst both player switches were scheduled to take place in 2018, they have been forced through this week to take immediate effect.
Whilst a desperate requirement for runs would make the addition of Dom Sibley a sensible and much needed addition to the Warwickshire ranks, the departure of Clarke, with seventeen wickets to his name this term, would seem at odds with their requirement to take wickets and bowl sides out - which is exactly what they’ll need to do to have any chance of saving their Division One status.
Ashley Giles has also secured the signings of both Adam Hose (from Somerset) and Will Rhodes (from Yorkshire) to bolster their ranks for the season run in, in the hope that competition for places and new additions to the side can invigorate his side and launch a late bid to salvage their top-flight status.
Whether Warwickshire’s new men feature at Lord’s remains to be seen, although if so, they’ll need to settle into the side immediately in what can only be seen as a must-win fixture for Middlesex’s visitors over the next four days.
Middlesex name the following fourteen-man squad for the Warwickshire clash…
James Franklin (captain)
John Simpson (wicket-keeper)