Middlesex First Team Coach, Richard Johnson, has named a fourteen-man squad to face bottom of the table Leicestershire at the Uptonsteel County Ground this week, in the penultimate round of matches in this year's LV= Insurance County Championship.
Having temporarily slipped from second in the table to fourth, being overtaken by both Glamorgan and Derbyshire, Middlesex went into last week's crucial promotion clash with Glamorgan at Lord's knowing that a win would put them back into the top two places, with promotion into the top flight of the County Championship firmly back in their own hands with just two games of the season remaining.
They duly got the job done in St John's Wood, securing a ten wicket victory over the Welshmen, thanks largely to a stellar performance with the bat, although with the ball and in the field it was a different story, as Middlesex uncharacteristically looked off the pace as a bowling unit at times and put several chances down in the field.
Despite not seizing on all the opportunities that came their way, Middlesex restricted Glamorgan to just one first innings batting point, although had they been more ruthless in the field the Glamorgan total could have been sufficiently less than the 214 they went on to post.
In reply, unlike Glamorgan, the Middlesex batters applied themselves brilliantly, as a fantastic hundred from opener Mark Stoneman, a typically impressive 76 from John Simpson, a half-century from Luke Hollman and a solid 40 from Ryan Higgins, making his return to the Club, saw Middlesex post 390 and secure four batting points to take a first innings lead of 176.
In the second innings, Middlesex looked off the money with the ball in the early stages as Glamorgan eroded most of that lead without too much trouble, with the Middlesex attack possibly guilty of searching too hard for the breakthrough rather than sticking to their normal disciplined line and length attack. Having put on 123 for the opening stand, the breakthrough eventually came on the stroke of the tea interval on day three and it was much needed.
The break did the Middlesex bowlers the world of good, and they looked a different side after the interval, hungry for wickets, probing and penetrating in all the right areas! The evening session saw Middlesex bowl superbly, as they turned things around to run through the Glamorgan line-up for the second time in the game, reducing them to 192 for 8 at the close.
The final two wickets were wrapped up the following morning quickly, to dismiss Glamorgan for 220, with Toby Roland-Jones taking five in the innings and seven in the game, with both Higgins and Tim Murtagh bagging five in the game, and Ethan Bamber three. Whilst Glamorgan were dismissed cheaply twice and the bowlers ultimately hit their straps in the end, there was still plenty of scope for improvement in the field to capitalise on the opportunities created.
Sam Robson and Stoneman made short work of knocking off the 45 runs required to secure a crucial win, with two and a half sessions to spare in the game, to see their side take a vital haul of 23 points from the match.
All that leaves Middlesex now sat in second place, twelve points clear of Glamorgan in third, and nineteen clear of Derbyshire in fourth. They trail Nottinghamshire, in first place, by 27 points, although with the top two going up into Division One, they don't need to take top spot to return to the Championship's top table. All sights will be set firmly on getting the points they need to go up, and any slip up by Nottinghamshire, who play Worcestershire this week, will merely be an added bonus.
Against Leicestershire, who have yet to win a game this season, Middlesex will be looking to mirror everything they delivered with the ball in the latter stages of the win over Glamorgan, and repeat their solid efforts with the bat - and anything close to this level of performance should should see Middlesex too strong for the Foxes over the coming four days.
In the return fixture, at Lord's at the end of April, the game played out in a remarkably similar fashion to the latest encounter against Glamorgan, with Middlesex matching the ten wicket victory they tied up last week. Middlesex bowled superbly in the first innings to dismiss the visitors for just 149 inside two sessions, before going on to post 370 in their first innings and secure a sizeable first innings lead - again it was Stoneman (108), Simpson (71) and Hollman (45) who top scored for Middlesex in the innings.
The Leicestershire second innings was wrapped up for 272 to leave Robson and Stoneman with the task of knocking off a target of 52 to secure a ten wicket win - again with Middlesex taking 23 points from the game.
A repeat performance and a similar points haul for Middlesex would be just what the doctor ordered, and with Glamorgan and Derbyshire playing each other this week, Johnson's side could technically secure the points they need to bank promotion this week in Leicestershire. All Middlesex can do though is focus on their own performance, hit the heights that they've managed to plenty of times this season, and then whatever happens elsewhere is in the lap of the Gods.
A win this week, irrespective of the result between Glamorgan and Derbyshire, and Middlesex will be heading to Worcestershire in the final week of the season with the opportunity to go up very much in their own hands and promotional a realistic hope.
It promises to be a thrilling week of Championship cricket ahead, as the race for promotion reaches its final stages.
For this week's clash in Leicester, Richard Johnson has named the following fourteen-man squad: