Continuing our season reviews, here is an assessment of Middlesex’s season.
Championship Division Two – 3rd;
FP Trophy – 3rd, South-East Division;
Twenty20 Cup – Winners;
Pro40 Division One - 8th
How to judge Middlesex’s season? It was one in which they lost two captains, never looked like getting County Championship promotion and saw a members’ revolt. But they also ended 15 trophyless years with a pulsating win in the Twenty20 Cup – earning riches unprecedented in county cricket in the process.
Still, for all the excitement of winter trips to Antigua and India, deep problems remain. A batting line-up that appears one of the best in the county game is still prone to alarming collapses; all too often, it fell to the line-up’s less-vaunted members, wicket-keeper Ben Scott and Shaun Udal, to repair the damage wrought by injudicious strokeplay.
In Andrew Strauss, Billy Godleman, Owais Shah, Eoin Morgan, Dawid Malan and Eds Smith and Joyce, Middlesex possess an array of supremely talented stroke-makers. Yet too often the side proved less than the sum of its parts. Where in the Twenty20, there was a relish for responsibility – witness Owais Shah’s sublime innings in the final and Malan’s breathtaking quarter-final century against Lancashire, from the depths of 21/4 – it was a sadly different story in the Championship. Consecutive wins to end the campaign secured third, but no one was fooled.
In between England duties, Strauss was much-improved upon last season and Shah played a few magnificent innings, though a CC average of 42 was still disappointing. Godleman struggled at times, but, still not 20 and with 35 first-class games under his belt, a long future in the game looks assured.
Further cause for optimism came in the pair of young left-handed stroke-players Malan and Morgan, both of whom are in the England Performance Programme Squad. Morgan looks well set to follow Joyce in representing both Ireland and England. His limited-overs batting is fearless and highly innovative – perhaps overly so at times – and an ODI debut cannot be too far away. But he also possesses a temperament and elegance that are well-suited to the first-class games, as three hundreds (the first, against South Africa, being his first for Middlesex) and an average of 50 are testament to.
However, things were less rosy for Messrs Smith and Joyce. Smith’s campaign was injury-ravaged. Joyce did superbly to steer the side to Twenty20 glory, but he struggled with the bat and as captain in the other formats of the game, leading him to pass the reins onto Udal, who oversaw the encouraging end to the season. Whilst signing Udal out of retirement proved inspired, as he batted terrifically and bowled with tremendous nous, especially in Twenty20, it is decidedly uncertain whether the Eds will begin the 2009 season in the Middlesex ranks.
The mainstay of the bowling was Tim Murtagh. Indefatigable and increasingly canny, he took more wickets all told than anyone else in the land. The support was rather mixed, however, owing much to injuries. Alan Richardson did very well after coming back from injury, but Chris Silverwood barely played. Young tyros Steven Finn and Danny Evans both have bright futures, especially the beanpole Finn, provided they are not overbowled too young.
Middlesex’s foreign imports were something of a mixed bunch. Dirk Nannes proved an excellent recruit, fantastic in the Twenty20 and averaging just 20 with the ball in his five Championship games. Tyron Henderson is a superb Twenty20 player, but failed in other competitions. Locum overseas player Vernon Philander was uninspiring, whilst Murali Kartik, so outstanding last season, failed to repeat his success, though he too was crucial in the Twenty20 win.
As they prepare for an exciting winter, Middlesex have many issues to be resolved – a permanent captain being the most pressing. But with Twenty20 riches to boost the club coffers and a band of immensely promising youngsters, Middlesex are in better shape than for many years.
Player of the season:
Tim Murtagh is the only realistic choice after taking 104 wickets this campaign, including 10 wickets in a match for the first time. An increasingly skilful operator and handy lower-order biffer – how Surrey must regret letting him cross the Thames.
Most disappointing player:
It may seem harsh but Murali Kartik’s 16 wickets at 34 from seven Championship games was a pretty woeful return for a man recruited to be a match-winning spin bowler who could lead the club to Division One.
Tyron Henderson holding his nerve, when all others were losing theirs, to win the Twenty20 Cup. With 11 wins from their 13 games, no one could dispute Middlesex were the tournament’s best side.
Losing consecutive Championship games by an innings and 10-wickets just before Twenty20 finals day, virtually ensuring another season in Division Two.
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