Middlesex make a welcome return to the Specsavers County Championship tomorrow when they visit Wantage Road to take on a Northamptonshire side currently sitting in ninth place in the Division Two table, just eleven points clear of bottom side Glamorgan.
The club have had to wait more than three weeks to build upon the thrilling victory they wrapped up inside three days at Lord’s against league leaders Warwickshire at end end of July, and Sunday’s clash is the first of six crucial Championship games remaining, as Middlesex look to push for promotion in the closing stages of the campaign.
With the Vitality Blast group stages now done and dusted, Middlesex will be keen to move on from a poor campaign and focus the minds on the Championship run-in.
Middlesex currently hold fifth place in the table, with 87 points on the board, sitting 34 points adrift of Sussex in second place and 42 behind Warwickshire in pole position.
With two places up for grabs to secure a return to the top flight of the County Championship set-up, and six games remaining, closing a 34 point gap is by no means unachievable for Middlesex, in what the club hope will be a season defining run in.
Sunday’s game represents the first of six individual challenges ahead for Middlesex, and the club’s Head Coach Richard Johnson is keen to take each game one at a time and ensure his players are focussed on making individual improvements and on the squad collectively performing to its potential in each and every session of all remaining games.
Middlesex beat Northants by 160 runs inside three days at Lord’s in the opening game of the year, although Johnson was keen to point out in an interview with the club earlier this week that this has no bearing on the coming four days and counts for nothing if Middlesex aren’t focussed on performing at their very best in the coming week.
Both sides have been desperately short of first innings runs all season, with the two teams only managing seventeen batting points between them (Middlesex 8 and Northants 9). When you consider that Sussex (20), Warwickshire (19), Leicestershire (18) and Derbyshire (18) have all individually secured more, the shortage of first innings runs is plain for all to see.
Middlesex’s Stephen Eskinazi - 385 runs at 38.50, and Northants’ Alex Wakely - 433 at 33.30, are the sides’ leading run scorers, and only one batsmen in either camp is averaging above fifty in first-class cricket for the season - Nick Gubbins of Middlesex at 57.40.
With the ball Middlesex’s Tim Murtagh and James Harris continue to lead the way and are in a two-man head to head race to top the Seaxes’ wicket-taking column. Harris has the edge at the moment, with 37, with Murtagh just two behind on 35. For Northants Ben Sanderson is the leading strike bowler, with 31 wickets to his name to date, although he lacks a close rival to share the load, with Brett Hutton the next best performer for the hosts, on 23.
Richard Johnson has had to shuffle the pack for Sunday’s outing, with several changes made for the clash against Northants. Steven Finn (knee), Tom Helm (back), Toby Roland-Jones (back), Paul Stirling (Ireland), John Simpson, Tom Barber and Ravi Patel (all not selected) are all absent from the squad, with Middlesex naming the following thirteen-man squad to make the trip to Wantage Road...
Dawid Malan (captain)