Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Squad named for visit to table-toppers

Gallingly Middlesex sit proudly atop the County Championship having played a game less than their nearest challenger. Surrey meanwhile are propping up Division One, albeit with two games in hand over Derbyshire.

Clearly though it isn't the mismatch a cursory glance at the table would suggest, we are after all still only in May. Chris Adams has named a 13 man squad for this clash:

Graeme Smith (capt)
Rory Burns
Arun Harinath
Vikram Solanki
Zander de Bruyn
Steven Davies
Gary Wilson
Gareth Batty
Chris Tremlett
Tim Linley
Jade Dernbach

12th men: Gary Keedy, Jon Lewis

The only real question is over whether Batty or Lewis will play. Middlesex have not named a spinner in their squad so we can expect a pitch for the quick bowlers. On the evidence of last season Lewis offers at least the same stability with the bat as Batty, if not more. Lewis also took seven wickets at Lord's last year so may be preferred. From two spinners in game one to no spinners in game three? Don't rule it out.

Meaker has yet to recover from his thigh injury so the excellent Tim Linley will continue to lead the attack. Dernbach and Tremlett will surely enjoy the surface this week more than last. I expect Harinath to continue at three despite Wilson's huge success there against Sussex. Not only does Harinath deserve a run in the slot, he may also be a more appropriate choice given the likelihood of some seam movement. Wilson in his current form is also very nice to have coming in lower down the order.

It will surprise no one to read that I'm disappointed at the omission of Jason Roy. He might have registered a first innings duck on the flattest of flat pitches last time out, but his second innings cameo of 16 from 22 balls was bristling with potential (if such a short innings can "bristle"). Needless to say I would also have opted for Jewell over de Bruyn.

Few fans of either side will have forgotten the last couple of encounters between these two. Both fixtures in 2012 were absolute humdingers. The combined difference between the two sides was the grand total of 11 runs - three runs at Lord's, eight runs at the Oval and a win apiece. The two games however were vastly different, while the North London bout was played out on a very tricky seamer's pitch, the return game saw a veritable dust bowl. I think I know which we're more likely to see over the next four days.

There were some grumblings after the Lord's fixture last year, notably from Chris Adams who described it as the worst pitch he'd ever seen. I suspect if Jade Dernbach hadn't tried to launch the second ball of what turned out to be Murtagh's final over down the ground, only to be caught at cover, Adams may have grumbled slightly less. 

Middlesex are not top of the Championship by accident. They were tipped as dark horses by some of the more informed watchers of county cricket and justifiably so. A seam attack containing Finn, Murtagh and Surrey bogeyman Toby Roland-Jones (he averages 10 runs per wicket against us) will challenge any side. Their batting is definitely their weaker suit, with only Chris Rogers having scored Championship runs with any real regularity lately. Nonetheless they have quality in the batting order, Denly, Malan, Robson, Simpson...all are capable batsmen.

After encountering two turgid surfaces at the Oval to kick off the season the bowlers will doubtless be straining at the leash to get going. The batsmen probably less so, but at least all but de Bruyn and Harinath (largely down to injury) have some significant time at the crease under their belts. Batsman or bowler, they'll all want to get one over on the local rivals, who we haven't beaten at Lord's since 1997. A fine place to get our first win of the season.

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