Continuing our series of county previews, here is an assessment of Middlesex's chances in 2008.
2007 in a nutshell:
Middlesex finished third in both the LVCC 2 and in the 2nd Division of the Pro40, securing promotion in the latter via victory over Northants in the ‘Play-Offs’. A positive season that lacked stand-out individual performances, the runs of Shah, as always, were crucial, while Ed Smith had a fruitful year with the bat during his first year as captain. Until the arrival of Murali Kartik, the side lacked a quality spinner, however the ageing new ball partnership of Richardson and Silverwood benefited from the wet conditions which permeated the summer’s cricket.
Middlesex doubtless have the armoury to force their way back into the top tier of Championship cricket; the likes of Shah, Joyce, Strauss and Smith have all played international cricket, while Compton, Morgan and Godleman have all been marked out as potential internationals. The weakness lies in the bowling department, without a strike bowler or a world-class spinner, there are doubts over the team’s ability to really threaten the strongest top-orders. The evergreen David Nash and star gloveman Ben Scott will share the wicket-keeping duties and either will provide batting depth down the order.
Middlesex have never made the Twenty20 finals, nor have they made a huge impression in the Friends Provident Trophy, so it would be good to see them step up their efforts in the one-day format in order to help them gain momentum in a push for promotion.
Owais Shah, when not carrying drinks for England, will inevitably score a stack of gloriously wristy runs. More is expected of Joyce, Morgan and Compton after mediocre 2007s, while everyone’s eyes will be peeled to see if Billy Godleman can live up to the hype surrounding the left-hander’s name. Ed Smith will be hoping he can reproduce the form he showed in all forms of the game in 2007. David Nash has made regular contributions from number 7 throughout his career, although if Ben Scott takes the gloves expect spectacular stumpings as opposed to consistent run-getting.
The aforementioned Richardson carries a heavy workload on tired legs, while Tim Murtagh has enjoyed more success in limited overs cricket than the longer form of the game. Steven Finn is a real talent, only young; he is freakishly tall, gaining bounce, lift and sideways movement and received several rave reviews during the recent Under 19 World Cup. Shaun Udal will need to enjoy a second wind to provide a spin option after the departure of Jamie Dalrymple, while left-arm spinner Chris Peploe has failed to make himself a permanent first team fixture.
The mid-season arrival of Murali Kartik will be of huge benefit to the balance of the attack, while it remains to be seen how new signings Vernon Philander and Dirk Nannes fair in their first years of county cricket.
One Day and Twenty20
It is difficult to look past Owais Shah, and if he impresses early season he will be, once again, knocking on the England selector’s door. After a pretty average 2007, look for Ed Joyce to rediscover the form that won him a spot at the World Cup.
All the talk will be about young Godleman who recently scored a pre-season hundred against Surrey, but the real stand-out youngster is Steven Finn, who could burst onto the scene ‘a la’ James Harris and really take batsmen by surprise.
Captain and Coach:
If his writing is anything to go by, Ed Smith is clearly a pretty intelligent guy. Add to this a double first from Cambridge, all the while establishing himself as a cricketer of note and you get the idea that the guy is pretty talented. He is a shrewd captain, who has the respect of the players, and as a batsman he has the ability to really take the game away from the opposition, particularly in the shorter formats.
New coach Toby Radford is a bit of an unknown, having run the Academy for the past three years, he will be keen to promote from within and will know the likes of Finn, Williams, Godleman and Levy (all academy graduates) well. Moreover it may benefit the county to have a fresh break from John Embury and the troubles that went with his time as county coach.