David Houghton admits Middlesex’s meagre tally of batting bonus points this season could ultimately prove fatal to their promotion chances in the County Championship.
The Seaxes’ narrow Division Two victory over Northamptonshire last week kept them in the running for a top-two finish, with an opportunity to close the gap when second-placed Sussex visit Lord’s from Wednesday.
However, Middlesex’s hopes of overhauling their rivals are not helped by the fact they have gleaned only eight batting points from nine matches – posting a first innings total in excess of 250 on just one occasion.
Houghton, the former Zimbabwe captain now in his fourth season as Middlesex batting coach, said: “I find it quite embarrassing the number of batting points we have. Only eight out of a possible 45 is a real problem.
“You wonder what difference that could make – it’s something that’s already in the back of my mind with five games left and two of the sides above us still to play.
“It’s a good thing that we’ve often been the stronger team on days three and four – but the trend of being dominant on day one just hasn’t happened, whether we’re batting or bowling.
“Just about every team talk has included the message ‘we need to start well’ but, even in the year we won the Championship, plenty of times we weren’t favourites by the end of the first two innings.
“I definitely think the wickets this season haven’t been the easiest to bat on and perhaps it also came as a surprise, after going down, that bowling attacks in this division are better than people give them credit for.
“But I think a lot of players would consider themselves to have fallen below their own standards. I don’t see us being reckless and throwing wickets away, but we haven’t been able to get through those periods where the bowlers have been on top.
“Standards have dwindled everywhere – for batsmen, it’s all about attacking and how many runs they can score. But can they defend their wickets for half an hour?”
Two players who showed themselves capable of crease occupation at Northampton were 20-year-old Max Holden, who spent the best part of four hours making 94 – his highest score for Middlesex – and all-rounder James Harris, whose unbeaten 79 took up even more time.
The pair drew praise from Houghton, who believes Holden and Harris can continue to thrive batting at numbers six and seven respectively.
“Max has opened the batting at all levels and dominated, but personally I don’t think he’s ready yet to open against the new ball in first-class cricket,” added the former Zimbabwe captain.
“Sometimes he gets in when we’re in trouble, but that doesn’t faze him. I feel six is a good position for him – he moves his feet better and gives us more value staying in that role for the time being.
“If you look at Jim technically, he’s as good as anyone we have and it’s a mystery to me that he’s not yet got a first-class hundred.
“I think what’s changed is our approach to Jim. He’d never really been a starter in every game but this year he’s been told he’s the club all-rounder, that spot at seven is his and he’ll play more often than not.
“That gives him the extra confidence to bat and bowl without fearing he’ll be out of the team next week and it’s brought the best out of him.”