John Simpson helped Middlesex seal the Division Two title at Grace Road 11 years ago – and he believes the current side are ‘not a million miles away’ as they return to Leicestershire for another crucial promotion test.
Simpson, who was at the non-striker’s end when Gareth Berg launched Leicestershire spinner Jigar Naik for six to secure the Seaxes’ 2011 success, has been a mainstay of the team ever since.
Opener Sam Robson and seam duo Tim Murtagh and Toby Roland-Jones are the only other survivors from that season and Simpson feels Middlesex possess a maturity in their line-up that can propel them to promotion.
Second in the table after crushing rivals Glamorgan by 10 wickets at Lord’s, Simpson’s side could take a major step towards a top-flight return if they win at Leicestershire next week, ahead of their final game away to Worcestershire.
“I’ve got great memories of Grace Road, when Bergy hit the winning runs. It was a really proud moment in my career to get promoted to Division One,” said the wicketkeeper-batter. “We go there full of confidence.
“There are quite a few parallels. When you look back on that team in 2011 we had Chris Rogers, Andrew Strauss and Dawid Malan, Murtagh, Roland-Jones and Steve Finn – it was a pretty complete team for Division Two.
“At the minute, we’re not a million miles away from being a complete team ourselves. We’ve got some really experienced county and international players and younger players coming through.
“I wouldn’t say we have a young team any more, though. I look at the lads who might be younger in age, but they’ve played a lot of cricket now and they’ve been performing with bat and ball throughout the season.”
Simpson has been one of Middlesex’s most consistent performers this summer, both behind the stumps – having accumulated 44 County Championship dismissals so far – and also with the bat.
The 34-year-old has more than 800 runs to his name in red-ball cricket, including three hundreds and four half-centuries and heads the county’s batting averages at 63.15.
“It’s probably been my best summer – with the bat, definitely,” admitted Simpson. “I try to keep it as simple as I can, soak up those pressure moments and be ruthless in getting those big scores.
“I think that’s been the biggest mentality shift – when I get into the 30s, make it into 60 or 70. When I get 60 or 70, make it into a big hundred. I’ve really enjoyed those challenges and I’m hungry for more runs.
“To have so many dismissals is testament to the bowling attack as well. I can do my job but unless they find the edge, my job is irrelevant!
“I just want to win these two games to make it conclusive we get promoted. For me that’d turn a really good summer into a truly incredible one.”
Middlesex have lacked the consistency to mount any kind of promotion challenge since they slid out of Division One five years ago, but they displayed a more hard-nosed approach in the win against Glamorgan.
After the Welsh side had wiped out the majority of their first-innings deficit of 176 without losing a wicket, Middlesex’s bowlers raised their game and triggered a decisive collapse on the third evening.
“It’s about trying to find ways to win,” added Simpson. “In that session after tea we took six wickets for 21 runs in almost an hour and a half. It shows that, when we’re switched on and in the hunt, we’re incredibly impressive.
“That winning mentality only comes from staying in the games for long periods and grinding it out, whether it’s with bat or ball.
“We’ve played some good cricket and it leaves our destiny in our own hands, which is where you want to be heading into these last two games.”